With Malice To All!*

Ministhy Dileep | October 18,2013 04:49 pm IST

How do you relate George Bernard Shaw with Insight? Well, he was given to making very cheeky, insightful comments. Like when he drew blood with his crack on people's attitude towards success.

Not theirs - but another person's…..


"Two types of calamities can befall a man. One is misfortune to himself and the second is good fortune to others." Touché!


That classic incidentally has some psychological connotations. In their famed "Social Exchange Theory"**, Thibaut and Kelley humorously points out why people seem so fascinated by the misfortunes of others (rather than the good fortunes). Apparently people use a judgmental standard called the "Comparison Level (CL)" in their relationships with others. It is an internal standard based on prior observations. So if someone gets a better silk sari, my expected outcome or CL has increased and I yell at my husband for buying me a cotton nightdress. In case the neighbor has been bitten by a dog, my CL has been lowered and I feel good enough to make rasgullahs that day. Get it?


(There is a joke about someone reading about the sinking of the Titanic. Apparently he gave everyone a treat. Imagine how low his CL had sunk that day for his satisfaction with his own measly life to increase that high!)


Closely associated with this very human tendency to denigrate others is what Kelley calls the "Attribution Error." It translates into something like this: Another's success is due to luck, mine is due to work. Another's failure is due to his defect, mine is due to fate.



Mr. A has cleared the Harvard Entrance. I say "Chee - it is all luck. Didn't you know, the entrance was damn easy this year?"

Yours Truly has cleared the said entrance. I say, "Of course - I toiled for it."




Mr. A has flunked his Harvard Entrance. I say, "Of course - he was always over ambitious."

The same entrance has shattered Yours Truly to bits. I say, "There is a lot of partiality, yaaar." (Or, as that old fox who missed the grapes would have said, "Harvard? I actually prefer Stanford, man!")


'We are like this only,' right? So do not be surprised when your erstwhile foe calls you to congratulate you on your success. She is somehow trying to find some loopholes in your success to cure her sudden insomnia. Like enquiring very politely, "So you never really worked for all these years, did you?" Soothe that burning soul. Agree happily. Cheers! Kelley would wink sympathetically. So would dear Georgie.


What did our intelligent Shakespeare write of human nature?

Blow, blow thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude."

(And like he laughed, "Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.")


Maybe there is something to the Bhagvad Gita philosophy of "Nishkama Karma" -something that dear old Maslow elaborated in his "Self Actualization" bit of the Needs Pyramid - Unattached Work. At least you will end up grinning when Ms. Malice comes a visiting. With vanity bag and rose powder.


Don't forget to treat her with tea. She is waiting to complain about the china. To lower her CL.


* With due apologies to Shri.Khushwant Singh.
** Thibaut & Kelley, 1959 


Ministhy S. is PG (PM&IR) from XLRI-Jamshedpur, and currently, an IAS officer working in the UP cadre. She has written five books - 'Unequal Equations', 'Learning with Tippy Tortoise: Tales for Kids', 'Happy Birthday: Poems for Kids' and a novel published by Dronequill Publishers, Bangalore....