"... this man, who has crawled and crept through life, wounding the hands he licked, and biting those he fawned upon: this sycophant, who never knew what honour, truth, or courage meant...
— Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge, Ch. 43
Its not that there are no such people in other organisations , sectors and places but just that I encounter this species most in Delhi. They are found everywhere - in all age groups and in all surroundings. What distinguishes them so distinctly is a very polite gesture on face(nearly always) and a wish to please . They call it courtesy , I call it sycophancy . In action what they do is nothing unusual, its the reason why they do so makes all the difference. I find it strange that if someone has died in the family of a service officer I hardly know why should I go and convey my condolences , or if a BIG boss( with whom i hardly meet otherwise) has got a further promotion I should I take an appointment to congratulate him/her. But many others do it as ' a matter of courtesy'. I am even fine with this courtesy bit if it is genuine. But how do you justify the reaction if it is exactly opposite of what they really think. You hate the person , call him a blood sucker and such other words but would not mind going to him with a bouquet in hand on his birthday or promotion.
Now the big question- or as I said, the element making it sycophancy is the reason . I feel( though everyone vehemently decline ) its for career goodies, business promotion and in general keeping superiors in 'good humour' . Its so strange that when one joins a profession one feels he/she can rely on his/her skills and competency but within few years even the so called smart ones start believing in factors which can be loosely clubbed in the category of sophisticated sycophancy. For some it is so much a matter of habit that they do not even realise that they are going overboard . I too face it with my subordinates . Imagine after the lousiest presentation of my life this young officer comes to my room and request for a copy of the most 'wonderful presentation he has ever seen'. I need not even look at his face . His words betray their meaning . The tone is all made up and the only intention is to get noticed .
Have you ever noticed what are the commandments in a sycophant's world? Let me list out few- the sirs always right and the ma'am always give very appropriate advices. They always have very bright ideas on everything from gardening to parenting and from governance to global warming. Bosses always have the best taste in music and wine and their offspring are lovely little angels even if they break your car's window while playing . Dare you contradict them- how foolish! how very uncool ! Argument with a superior on anything related/unrelated with work......nah ...that's blasphemy .
These days I wonder whether all these tricks pay off in the end. My answer is yes and no . Yes if the person you are trying to please is also as dumb as you'd like him to be and no , if he has a better discretion. I would still feel that if a superior falls for such false praise and respect he is not worthy of any real one. Why should I lower my dignity to cater such a person's ego?After all those who are worth praise and respect would see through these rituals easily . One always come across stories of people who got a plush posting or some other 'goody' by being his boss's slave but I don't feel that so far I fared badly by speaking my mind , not indulging in such rituals of praise and even differing with bosses also . In fact I was lucky to find bosses who even after fighting with me on work related issues always rated me high in performance appraisals. I can say this with some certainty as I too as a boss can not think too positive of people who do not miss a single occasion of praising me , my dress, my way of working and of all things...my handwriting!! At times I feel sorry for the celebrities and people on top of their fields of work . There are of course people who despite attaining great heights lack great depths (in fact they form the majority )but for the rest what a torture it must be to always be on guard against such false compliments and admirers.
Last week after another round of promotions of bigwigs of our department when a colleague asked me if I would care to come on a 'mission congratulations' to a big boss I told her to ask the old man on my behalf how is the scene from up there . How many bald heads he can see from the top? She was obviously scandalised by my response .