Learn to live on lentils. On seeing the philosopher, Diogenes, eating bread and lentils, fellow philosopher, Aristippus, who lived comfortably by flattering the king said,
“If you would learn to be subservient to the king you would not have to live on lentils.”
Diogenes replied, “Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to be subservient to the king.”
Sucking up, arse-kissing, brown-nosing, blowing smoke up someone’s arse…they’re just all slightly snarky (and definitely bum-themed) ways of referring to someone’s subservient behaviour.
You’ve probably aimed these phrases at someone yourself at some point; that kid at school who was always volunteering for stuff; a total suck up….and what about when the new lad started complimenting the popular kids, hoping to be welcomed into the inner circle? What a bum-lick!
Despite the childish nature of the insults (which are almost always, certainly among school-age kids, accompanied by an element of jealousy), ‘sucking up’, or being subservient, is often a bit of a survival mechanism. No one wants to be left out or feel like a social outcast and, for some, blowing a bit of smoke up someone else’s arse can be the only way to get a foot on the ladder of social hierarchy.
But what about as adults? Surely we outgrow such immature behaviour and name-calling as we come into our own and better know who we are as people? Sadly, not always. We’ve all known an office brown-nose or a ‘try-hard’, and the truth is, who we are at school tends to follow us into adulthood. There will always be arses, just as there will always be someone willing to blow smoke up one.
And brown-nosing, it seems, is something of a national workplace pastime. Harmless perhaps – funny even, particularly if you happen to be the person ‘sucked up’ to, so to speak. ‘Brown-nose’ is certainly not a title that anyone wants, but if using excessive flattery and agreeing that the sky is green if that’s what the boss so decrees can help you to get ahead, it’s a moniker some people will merely shrug at and learn to live with.
Being subservient, or licking someone’s boots, works because of how human beings work. We seek out and thrive off of approval and compliments. If someone is feeding our ego , whether the flattery is sincere or not, it makes us respond more positively to that person and situation, and generally makes us feel good about ourselves.
It could be that you’re dealing with a kiss-arse at work right now. Can you think of someone who is constantly complimenting the ideas of those higher up? Agreeing with the boss, even when they’re not around to hear it? Throwing coworkers under the bus so they can look good in front of management?
And what about when you vent about your boss and somehow what you’ve said gets back to them?
That, my friend, is the work of a brown nose.
Chances are, if you HAVE worked with someone like this, they tend to be the butt of the office jokes among everyone else – except by those who are having their arses well and truly kissed, obviously. But why should they care? They’re not the ones eating lentils, are they?
But what a price to pay. These are the people who don’t get invited for drinks after work and whom nobody wants to get for secret Santa at Christmas. They probably don’t have any friends that they consider equals, because they surround themselves with people whom they constantly have to flatter and make feel ‘more than’.
Brown-nosing certainly isn’t for everyone. There are definitely a lot of people out there who would rather eat the bloody lentils than compromise their integrity and end up with fewer mates. But, for those who are subservient in character, it’s normally pretty in-built and difficult to stop. Suck-ups use flattery to hide their own feelings of incompetency, inadequacy and insecurities, and they feed off the constant approval from those who are ‘higher up’.
They don’t care that other people have noticed and are reacting negatively to it because, in their eyes, it’s going to benefit them in the end. And in the short term, perhaps it does – certainly in a work environment.
However, we all know that the more someone compliments you, the less it means. It loses its shine and sparkle and just becomes ‘words’; you stop hearing it in the end, or it just annoys you. People who are constantly having smoke blown up their arses are going to get annoyed eventually too – or worse, will become apathetic and start to take advantage of this subservient soul who can’t do enough for them.
Wouldn’t you rather eat lentils than continue to feed the ego of someone who, quite frankly, doesn’t really give a shit? This is more common in groups of younger people who haven’t really found their way in the world yet.
There seems to be a ‘suck-up’ in most social groups – that one person will always lend someone money and won’t hassle them when they don’t pay it back, doesn’t seem to worry if you lose that bag they lent you, and will always fawn over how great everyone looks (normally whilst simultaneously putting themselves down), and initially this person is very well-liked.
And why not? They would do anything for you! They make you feel good about yourself! Nothing is too much trouble! But, eventually their behaviour becomes grating and it’s easy to be careless with their feelings and take advantage of their desire to kiss arse at any cost.
In professional situations, the reactions of the people being ‘sucked’ (for want of a better word) can be quite different. I’m not saying that situations don’t occur where subservient personalities are completely taken advantage of in the workplace – I’m sure it happens everyday, but, in most professional settings, being a brown-nose isn’t going to endear you to your superiors – it’s just going to make you look bad.
Managers will assume that you’re just trying to compensate for a lack of skill or knowledge. You look desperate and lacking in confidence – not a good look if you’re hoping that all of this boot licking is going to get you promoted. Seriously, the second you put yourself in a position of subservience, THAT is how you will be perceived – not ideal if you’re aiming for higher standing.
Perhaps you’ve been reading this and have realised, with growing dread, that I’ve been talking about you. Maybe you’re someone who grew up with low self-esteem, and felt like an outsider. Perhaps you’re the person who tried to ingratiate themselves with ‘popular’ or ‘higher’ groups by kissing a bit of arse. Better than being left on the sidelines, right? But somewhere along the way, that slightly fawning behaviour spilled over into subservience – and now, sure, you’re not eating lentils, but you’re not really where you want to be either.
Start making healthier connections with the people around you. Being friendly, genuine and interested is going to earn you far more points both professionally and personally than being a kiss arse. You are everyone’s equal; you don’t need to be blowing smoke up anyone’s arse in order to get respect – in fact it’s more likely to have the opposite effect.
So, eat those lentils, be your authentic self, and leave the butt-sniffing to the dogs.