“I hope you won’t forget that you got this chance because of me. It was I who introduced you…I who recommended you…if I hadn’t spotted this opening you may never have made it…”
Does this sound familiar?
Most people not only want to succeed but wish to take credit for someone else’s success. Vanity and self-seeking attended even the first recitation of Kamban’s Ramayana in the temple at Srirangam. The poet had to satisfy various conditions demanded by the priests who asked for approval from a wide spectrum of society. This included the learned and influential Jains in the village of Tirunarunkontai, who wanted to know if they had been mentioned in the book. Kamban quoted verse 2-27-56 to satisfy them. Even a great Chola-period poet could not ignore the realities of social ambition for being given credit or acknowledgement.
Perhaps, it is a deep mammalian trait — this longing for acknowledgement — which is synonymous with insecurity and identity in a group. When a corporate group surges ahead and wins a portion of the market, everyone wants a share of its financial success. “We thank all our employees for making this happen…” speeches are peppered with such sentiments but only a few people are rewarded for the work of many. Those who study the behaviour of primates recognise a number of traits they share with human societies. Chimps compete continuously with one another, even while they live together and survive as a group. When the mother of a young chimp is not around, other adult females even try to harm her baby — so envious are they of any potential rival for food, space or attention. This partiality and meanness is a manifest part of life in a joint family of humans where some children are favoured above others. And so, the wheels of pride and prejudice are held firmly in place by the spokes of vigilant shareholders in credit and benefit-sharing.
Behind the scenes
The opposite view is taken by emotionally mature people or those who are more philosophical in their outlook. They do not expect to be singled out for praise or reward for work undertaken because they see themselves as part of a larger plan. Do we know who really wrote the marvellous prayers and devotional poems we recite or teach our children to memorise? They say that this king or that queen built this monument or bridge or fort. Really? What about the engineers and masons, the load-bearers and the artisans who did not even have artificial light to do the work? How many of us think of the electricians who manage the lights and microphones at a complex performance of dance or music? Without them, would the performances be as effective as they usually are? No.
Giving credit for the labour and time spent on team work is a ticklish thing. Years of grievance attend those who come up with good ideas and projects, but whose work is cornered and absorbed without acknowledgement by seniors or peers who dishonestly take the credit for those very ideas. Of course, with collaborative work it is not always clear who did what; but an effort must be made to reward, or at least openly praise, the one who put it forward in the first place.
The writer is Consultant, Publishing (Oxford University Press). minioup @gmail.com