Still cringing at the title? Yup, that was me for five years of medical college. Every damn time the dean came up on stage or had to address a gathering larger than two people, there'd be one person who introduced him as, "Respected Dear Dr. Dean Sir",and the rest (often just one) vociferously clapped. As if just calling him the Dean (which he is) or Dr.ABC (which he is), or Sir (which he is not, the Queen never called), wasn't enough. Ass licking of Grade A quality. And every time they did that, or I'd read letters to the Dean starting off with, 'Respected sir', I'd hear the distinct high pitched voice of my ninth standard school teacher chiding us because that's grammatically wrong! Thanks ma'am, you've made me anal retentive for life.
You'd think that after a few years, I'd begin to ignore this blasphemy of grammar, but it only got worse. And with time, I noticed that this ass licking extended to anyone in power. Not that these people ever noticed, but the minions tried anyway. I still hate the fact that so many fellow students one year my junior would call me 'Sir', because that's the established practice. It starts off in first year of med school when the freshers are "supposed" to respect the seniors, or face social purgatory. Dramatic, isn't it? In reality, not so much. The seniors may just rag on the juniors a little or refuse them help. All for what? False respect? For being born a year earlier? Yikes. Then there was our education department, where students regularly and loyally buttered up the clerks so that work may get done that tiny bit faster. Yes, ass lickers galore! If there is any difference between politeness & lunacy, the students failed to see it.
"Hello Uncle, Aunty, how're you doing?". As a kid, this would be uttered multiple times a day. Everyone in our country is our uncle and aunt, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. Calling out to someone as Mister or Miss, is considered alienating them. But, the dynamics of Indian society heavily revolve around emotional blackmail and mental torture; so perhaps familiarizing yourself as family helps. We have problems with boundaries. I always felt that by giving relative unknowns more than their due respect, I was somehow belittling the relationships I already had. Having realized this, the supply of temporary aunts and uncles soon ceased in my life.
While all these "respected" individuals and part-time uncles lead to a lot of awkwardness in our humdrum lives, it seems ridiculous when these principles start to spill over into the professional realm. From my personal experiences, relationships for the most part are extremely strained when they are between individuals working at different levels. Bosses feel superior in unjustifiable ways, and the workers, they help maintain the delusion. One knows all is not well at the office, when respect is commanded rather than earned.
While I was interning, I found I worked best under those residents who spoke freely, those who made me feel I was working with them, rather than for them. These are the sort of leaders you want at work, ones who you can speak to without fear of critical remarks, or being reminded of your place in the pecking order. I was lucky to met a few great seniors. Residents who wouldn't ever order dinner without asking where the interns were and when they'd get free; Professors who would call me into the OT just for kicks and then ask for coffee after; And people who were mostly just great guys looking for company, not an ego boost.
At the workplace, there needs to be some balance between hierarchy and equality. There isn't a building in the world that doesn't have its own version of a Power Pyramid. It is up to the people at the top to make those clutching at their trousers feel at ease. It is extremely difficult to work our way up when we are continually reminding ourselves of our place in the hierarchy, constantly projecting power to the person behind the bigger desk. We are just as much to blame for this as the person at the top. The line between respect and ass-licking is fairly large (Think large like elephants, football pitches, endless farms, Jupiter. You get the picture), and one that we continually ignore.
One needs to be extra careful in our country, where promotions are decided more on basis of seniority & years served, than experience & expertise. Building camaraderie, not hierarchy, is important to working well together. How else will you promote competition and innovation not just within strata but between them? Make me feel like my excellence at work is foremost when it comes to rewarding and noticing me, then sit back and watch the magic happen.