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By the way: Honoring you, honoring me

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, February 14, 2020  /  01:08 pm
By the way: Honoring you, honoring me

I have seen many senior professionals -- mostly men, interestingly enough -- who like to give endless speeches about just how great they are in terms of their professional achievements while contributing little work and belittling their junior colleagues in the process.

I do not have problems with people who take pride in their achievements. My younger colleagues and I are often happy and take pride in what we have been capable of doing as we build our careers.

I also do not want to dishonor the seniors’ contributions and achievements, since they have been alive longer and have probably gone through some tougher problems in their lifetimes compared with their younger colleagues.

What I do have a problem with is these senior colleagues’ attitudes toward other people’s success. While being proud and talking endlessly of the people who they have come in contact with, places they have been to and issues they have dealt with – which are actually all part and parcel of their work – they seem to resent other people’s success.

They are quick to envy colleagues of the same generation who have enjoyed greater fame and public recognition.

While envy is a shared human experience, demeaning others’ achievements to make you feel better about yourself is damaging. Yet every time they hear about former colleagues who have found greater success elsewhere, they will try to put that person down in whichever way they can.

As I have mentioned, they are also very quick to belittle their junior colleagues. They often mock us for our hobbies and interests. To a T, they are often hypercritical and are very quick to find faults with everything we do. And yet, they are also very stingy in transferring their knowledge down to us or connecting us with their peers who can probably help us develop our careers.

This actually makes me sad. At the same time when they keep on bragging about their greatness, why can’t they be happy – or at least gracious – when they hear of their colleagues’ success? At the same time that they reminisce on their glory days, why cannot they nurture members of the next generation to carry their torches forward? Why, in order to puff themselves up, do they have to put others down?

Have I told you that most of these braggarts are men? Well, upon reflecting, doesn’t my story bring to mind the usual keywords “male ego”, “toxic masculinity” and “desire to dominate” here?

A lot of feminist studies have pointed out the sense of entitlement that has been ingrained in privileged heterosexual men since they were very young because of how their parents and environment treated them. Furthermore, men are groomed to primarily pursue the agentic/authoritative part of their ego in order to amass power signifiers – from achievements to influences to material possessions – all to themselves.

While we need this agentic/authoritative trait in order to preserve ourselves, yet we also need to have a nurturing trait, in which we share our resources to also ensure the wellbeing of others.

Evolutionary theorists have found that humans are unique, since their survival depends on how the group thrives and is totally dependent on others – thus, as scholar Jonathan Haidt puts it, we are essentially a “groupish” being rather than a selfish one.

Yet this reality has been trumped by a toxic brand of masculinity, whereby men are not just allowed but even encouraged to accumulate power at the expense of others.

This can result in so many different consequences – from the men who only like to bask in their own glories while resenting others’ successes and who are unwilling to share their graces with others to the destructive exploitation of our social and natural resources, which have led to the multidimensional crises that we face today.

Ultimately, this brand of toxic masculinity also does damage to the male psyche itself, not just the people around them who endure its repercussions.

Feeling disconnected from other people and the fragility of narcissism can lead to not only excessive drinking and promiscuous sexual behavior (stereotypically, this is how men vent their negative emotions), but also major depression and suicide.

Interestingly enough, the endless bragging, “look at how great I am” inflation of the male self, combined with the deflation of other people’s well-being, achievements and happiness, which have bugged me and initially prompted me to write this article, may only show us symptoms that can point to even more serious and bigger societal problems.

Yet, to conclude the story, in order to avoid suffering for yourself and the people around you, it might not hurt for you to brush that narcissism aside and start developing a sense of humility, that we are all part of a collective tapestry, in a movement to create a better life for ourselves and others.

After all, I believe most of us share this positive intent, save for the 10 percent of sociopaths and terrorists out there.

Perhaps we can start this by learning to be happy about other people’s achievements. Or at least, if their success makes us envious, allow it to inspire us to create better meaning out of our own lives. (ste)

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