Learnt not to disagree

We’ve, as humans, inherited an emotional and cognitive mechanism that motivates us to avoid perceived risks to our psychological and material well-being
Learnt not to disagree
Representational Pic

(While pointing to the basketful of brinjals window-dressed in a vendor’s shop, Akbar casually quizzes, ‘Birbal, do you see yonder brinjals, aren’t they a nasty vegetable?’ ‘zile-illahi! Of course, they’re! even dogs don’t eat them’.

The cute-looking brinjals make a tasty vegetable’. Remarks the emperor when he visits the market next time. ‘Aalam Panah! they’re indeed tasty.’ replies Birbal.’ But then last time you said, even dogs don’t eat brinjals.’
‘Badshah Panah!Zile-illahi’s servant and not that of brinjal.)

The fear of ‘speaking up’ or ‘disagreeing’ is over-determined by both the general nature of humans and the specific realities of the modern economy. Historically, it’s been better for survival to ‘flee’ too often from threats that aren’t there than to not ‘flee’ the one time there is a significant risk. We’ve, in effect, inherited an emotional and cognitive mechanism that motivates us to avoid perceived risks to our psychological and material well-being. Turning to the modern world, most of us depend on bosses and big shots to meet many of our basic needs for economic support and human relationships-- thus the fear of offending those above us. One way of getting in trouble with those above us is to ‘speak up’ or ‘disagree’, as they’re always perceived as a challenge of authority or critical of cherished programs.

Given the exaggerated and real reasons to fear offending authorities, it’s not surprising that people calm up when the signals seem unfavorable. Fear reflexes operate automatically --disagree and you’ll be hurt in the long run. Since the costs of disagreement (COD) are high, some people never ‘disagree’, let alone criticize. The ‘appeasement’ being the best solution, these people exhibit a body language that transmits that they’re not to be treated someones who ‘speak up’ or ‘disagree’ and are therefore the opponents. As children, they learned not to ‘disagree’ with parents and tried best to avert the pain that the ‘disagreement’ could inflict. In the school, the teacher seldom graded high for one who put up a real argument and disagreed with him. As adults, they knew that speak your mind and you lose your job; if you don’t lose your job you may lose face or a place on the list of fair-haired/blue-eyed promotables and remain down in the dumps. Galileo suffered for not showing accommodating spirit. ‘Sure winners’ ensure to swim with the stream. They learn not to say ‘no’ even if they know that it’ll not always be in their best interest to say ‘no’. They know that their survival depends on their capacity to take on the hue that their masters are likely to assume at any given moment.

Bosses may not morally feel like making cases for spineless conformity or lemmings’ obedience as a prerequisite for the advancement of people (as for them) to top plum positions. But then they do thump the tub to develop ‘yes-men’ in their subordinate ranks. Top brass lack awareness of what is really going around them. Either they’re too busy listening to themselves or listening to anyone else or are too involved in their own presence to notice what is going around. They need to have their confidants to do the job. They usually contrive to have someone else boast about them. Attendant flatterers sing their praises and help raise their status from low to moderate by judiciously employing this device. A social niche is thus provided to the flatters who ‘yes’ their masters into a false sense of security. As saying ‘Yes’ to everything always is the quality of sweetness and humility, masters like people for their quality of never–saying–no and for hanging around every time for keeping their masters from feeling unduly bothered by conscience or common sense.

As the system itself is the best clue to peer into, the ‘sure winners’ understand how things really work, who is ‘hot’ and who ‘isn’t’, and where the gangplanks and back doors are. They make peace with themselves and agree to tackle a position of careful cowardice as members of the system. Basking in the sunshine of their master’s presence assures them of the reflected glory, authority, and so on. Success, status, advancement, and money are too valuable to be risked before those who make judgments. Rather than place all of these symbols in jeopardy people make compromises which they think are required to hang on. Perhaps because the servant is commonly regarded as something that can be sold, in the master-servant/superior-subordinate relationship, the self-contempt tends to be an essential ingredient to the extent that people don’t mind getting treated disrespectfully. As the virtues of a free person aren’t to be found in them it’s unfair to twit them with the absence of such virtues. Insults and humiliations meted out mold the characters of the people. For sheer survival and to be the ‘sure winners’ in a situation of loot, plunder as also anarchy, toads learn to be crafty for making use of lies, selfishness, and deceit/subterfuge.

‘Beaters’ combine capabilities and skills with other things--savvy people They sense, an understanding of how the game is played, and do things they plan on doing and for no longer than they plan on doing them. As ‘fasternicks’ it isn’t what they do and say, but how they look along the way that’s going to get them to the top. While pursuing goals set for themselves, their cost calculations/perceived values of tangibles, intangibles and their performance on the job and the achievements entitle them to rewards and gratitude and to be the ‘hip shooters’ and the ‘success stories’. For they’re the glad-handers, often the old-school-I-am-glad-you-asked-me-that types, the quality of deserving well, excellence, and worth is what they call ‘merit’. In our wonderland, they’re the ‘star performers’. Nothing is impossible for them. They don’t require academic qualifications/brilliance to reach the top. They sacrifice and bear the humiliation of sinking through the floors and licking and throwing themselves at the feet of their masters like ‘doormats’, placed near doors for wiping the dirt from shoes. They take pride helping them in household chores, arranging plumbers, gas cylinders, paying children’s school fees (and carrying them to school), watering flower pots, serving tea and eatables to the guests and carrying their master’s briefcases, luggage and even opening their office/car doors if that means business.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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