Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Cynics & Sycophants - Mutually Exclusive?

The common man, like you and I are easily swayed by the words spoken by others. These words may either possess the acidity of a cynic or the sweet sugar coating of a sycophant. 

A cynic undermines the honest good deeds of a person and only sees the act as something done for personal benefit and not for the greater good of the society. He is not to be confused with a critic, who on the contrary can be your closest friend and greatest supporter. A critic, sets you on the right path and gives guidance to your gait. Whereas a cynic, works towards prevaricating an already righteous person. 

A sycophant is the flip-side to the cynic. While a cynic only sees the glass as half empty, the sycophant seizes the opportunity to divert your attention and enjoy the contents of the glass for himself. The sycophant is the biggest opportunist who clouds the mind with flattery and overt politeness & rational judgement becomes a casualty. 

Today, we are largely an insecure generation and we need constant reassurances & feedback from people who have no real say in our lives. We crave for advises and suggestions from many of our friends and acquaintances who probably would have had very little or even no experience of the situation you want to get out of or get into. Today, our decision making is so much influenced by the thought of societal perception, how the rest of the world would receive my decision? In what light would my name be taken by others? This is what dominates our thoughts more than the rationale that are supposed to weighed & measured so as to deduce the best possible solution to you. I have known people who wear a pall of gloom over their faces, when their status message does not garner the anticipated number of 'likes' or 'responses' on facebook. It is as if you have done something for nothing at all! Well, it obviously hurts when people tend to look the other way or develop a cynical viewpoint of your doings. 

Cynics are a grumpy lot and since they are hardly appreciative of anything positive and good, they are always dwelling on the depressive side. Obviously, they aren't brave to confront you in the public domain but their silent cynicism is a slow killer. Unless, we brace ourselves to the harsh reality of society, we shall continue to be perturbed by growing disagreements and mounting grunts of disapproval. 

I have been a victim of many such cynics and in our society, we come across a lot of them. Many of my decisions were put off for fear of ridicule and disapproval by cynics in the guise of critics. It is quite hard to isolate a cynic from a crowd of critics. Only after iterative sampling, does one identify the true cynic. But perhaps, it could be too late by then. 

While a cynic at least provides a chance to sit and ponder over what went wrong - the usual jambory of root cause analysis and preventive action, the cunning sycophant rarely displays a lapse in his behavior. A sycophant is a veiled cynic who goes one step further by disorienting his target by not standing in opposition, but showering him with flattery, hiding his flaws and closing all exits to a path of correction and retribution ultimately leading to the latter's downfall. The sycophants are anything but loyal and faithful. They are like parasites, feeding on the very body over which it survives. The demise of the body gives the parasite an opportunity to move onto another. Perhaps, these sycophants were the reason for the downfall of mighty rulers and dictators whose rash decisions were met with approving nods of his yes men which led them to their doom. 

Flattery may boost the self confidence and esteem, but an excess of it and a lack of constructive criticism results in ballooning of the ego and there the descent starts. Leaders , kings and statesmen are always surrounded by sycophants. What sets them apart from the rest and makes them great leaders, great kings and great statesmen is their ability to read apart a true loyalist from a bunch of yes men. A small story to illustrate this. 
We all have heard the fabulous tales of Raja Birbal's extraordinary wit and presence of mind. He was one of the Nava Ratnas of Emperor Akbar's court. A brief incident which stands testimony to Birbal's loyalty and love for his emperor and the great Emperor's unambiguous thinking. 
One day Emperor Akbar and Birbal are just striding their horses on a leisurely round about, when they come across a field of vegetables. Emperor Akbar notices a section of the field laden with cabbages and exclaims "what a great vegetable this cabbage is! I love cabbages" to which Birbal responds "Indeed, your highness, the cabbage is the king of the vegetables" and they move on. A few days later, when the duo come across the same field growing cabbages, the great Emperor's opinion has seen a drastic change and this time around he remarks "these cabbages do not measure up to an Emperor's taste buds, these are useless weeds" to which Birbal responds, "Very true your Majesty, cabbages do not deserve any praise". The Emperor is taken aback at the response of this wisest of his courtsmen and demands an explanation for his change in opinion. Birbal, known for his wit and humor, replies "Your Highness, I am your servant, not of the cabbage". 
Emperor Akbar clearly read through this reply and was immensely happy at the outcome of the small test he had put across. Birbal, in this incident may have sounded like a genuine sycophant, but the wise Emperor was smart enough to identify Birbal as his faithful follower.  

Both cynics and sycophants are akin to the overgrown weeds in your backyard which requires frequent de-weeding. They are both not supportive of a person's growth. Therefore, it is always best to take both harsh criticism and overt flattery with a pinch of salt. 

- Cynicism is humor in ill health, H.G Wells

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