By Steven G. Mehta

In some sense, mediators are simply messengers in a war of the parties.  They send and interpret a message from one side to the other.  And we all know sometimes what can happen to the messenger.  Well I thought I might briefly look at the origin of the phrase, “Don’t shoot [or kill] the messenger.”

According to Wikipedia, “Shooting the messenger” is a metaphoric phrase used to describe the act of lashing out at the (blameless) bearer of bad news.  It appears that the original basis for the statement may have come from a related sentiment expressed as far back as 446 B.C in Antigone by Sophocles as “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news”.   Later, it was used by Shakespeare in Henry IV, part 2 (1598)[1] and in Antony and Cleopatra: when told Antony has married another, Cleopatra threatens to treat the messenger’s eyes as balls, eliciting the response ‘gracious madam, I that do bring the news made not the match’.[2]

Going back to Greek history, I thought you might like to the see the concept in action with a slight theatrical embelishment from the movie 300.

As a side note as to why people for a long time have been worried about shooting the messenger.  I think it goes back to fight or flight.  When people hear a message that they don’t like, it invokes the fight or flight reaction in that person.  Rather than run away from the message — and its implications — they choose to fight.