Ancient Persians used to kill some messengers whose sole fault was that they brought home truthful bad news, say, of a battle lost.

This tendency to blame the bearer of bad news was coming not only among Persians. In Plutarch’s Lives we read: “The first messenger, that gave notice of Lucullus’ coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that, he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man dared to bring further information. Without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him“.

A related sentiment was expressed in Antigone by Sophocles as “no one loves the messenger who brings bad news“.

Persian Messenger syndrome is well alive today, albeit in a less lethal version. It is actually very dangerous in many careers to be a carrier of unwelcome news. Sometimes lawyers, knowing their clients will hate them if they recommend an unwelcome but wise settlement, will cary on to disaster. The proper antidote to Persian Messenger Syndrome and its self-delusion effects is to develop an habit of welcoming bad news. Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett use to say “Always tell us the bad news promptly. It is only the good news that can wait“.

Reactions to the whistleblowing organizations, such as WikiLeak of Julian Assange, shows how ingrained in our mind is the shoot the messengerbias.