By Mubarak Ali
Power and superiority are so flattering and delightful, that, fraught with temptation, and exposed to danger, as they are, scarcely any virtue is so cautious, or or any prudence so timorous, as to decline them. – Samuel Johnson
THUS we find that throughout history flattery has been a powerful instrument and tool to transform an individual from a state of virtual non-existence to one that is powerful and authoritative.
As soon as an individual assumes power, he changes dramatically from an ordinary and obscure person to a famous and reputed one and becomes a paragon of virtue. His past is ignored and his present position turns him into a hero. He is immediately elevated to the high pedestal of fame and glory.
Consequently, he is so intoxicated by flattery that he starts believing himself to be the saviour and deliverer of the nation, a divinely guided leader and a man who possesses extraordinary qualities to solve all kinds of problems. He is regarded as the chosen one who can guide the nation along the path of prosperity and security. He is assured by his cronies that he is loved by the people more than anyone else. They convince him that they are his sincere and true friends and ready to sacrifice their lives for him.
The person is so taken in by those intellectuals, officials and friends who shower praise on him that he, in return, patronises them and offers them all kinds of benefits. As they get all types of benefits from their patron, they make an attempt to keep him in power. They fully know that his decline will spell the end of their privileges.
The reality is that his flatterers are not praising him as a person but as someone who has authority and the power to give concessions to his cronies. However, this reality comes as a shock to the person when power slips from his grip. As soon as the individual loses power as a result of political change or a coup, he finds him in isolation, bereft of any support or sympathy from the former sycophants. He reverts to his position of an ordinary individual. All glorifications which were attached to his name disappear in no time.
Such a person is humiliated and insulted by the media, intellectuals and bureaucrats who were once around him. Everybody is ready to thrash him for what he has done in the past and focus on how he misused his power and how involved he was in corruption. Under these circumstances, such fallen leaders prefer to spend the rest of their life in exile rather than in their own country.
We have a number of examples in our recent history where powerful individuals declined to an insignificant position and were left alone to live on past memories. When Ayub Khan carried out his coup in 1958, he suddenly emerged as an extraordinary man. He was profusely admired as the man who could lead the nation to progress and advancement. He was called the ‘De Gaulle of Asia’.
An experienced general and mature statesman, he was advised by Z.A. Bhutto to assume the title of ‘field marshal’ to distinguish himself from other generals. Pir Ali Mohammad Rashdi even suggested that he become king of Pakistan. Surrounded by flatterers he started to believe that he was the person who could deliver the nation from turmoil and crisis.
In his last days when he was losing popularity, his cronies continued to tell him that he was still popular among the people. It is said that to mislead him they provided him cuttings of newspapers which were in his favour.He remained ignorant of the criticism and condemnation surrounding his policies. When he resigned under pressure, there was jubilation. He silently retired to his home village where he died like an ordinary person. There was no national mourning, no tribute to him.
His successors had the same fate. Yahya Khan after his retirement became the butt of sarcasm. His scandalous lifestyle was condemned by everybody. He is remembered in history as the man responsible for the secession of East Pakistan. When he died, few people took note of his death. Ziaul Haq who was praised as mard-i-momin is now remembered as the man who patronised religious extremists in the country and violated all constitutional provisions in order to fulfill his political goals.
The fact of the matter is that men of power like flattery because it satisfies their ego and they are conscious about their personal qualities. It makes them feel taller than others. There is a price to be paid for this when they fulfill the demands of their minions, who trap them in their net of flattery. According to the writer Leo Tolstoy: “Even in the warmest, friendliest and simplest of relations, flattery or praise is needed just as grease is needed to keep the wheel going round.”
Wills Goth Regier in his book In Praise of Flattery enumerates the dangers of flattery and how it is lethal, to a person who is praised. According to him, it is like a drug that because of its addictive powers causes a person to lose his senses; it is a disease which makes a person fatally sick; it prevents the man of power from hearing any bad news; it increases intolerance to criticism; and it abets arrogance. The result is that the man of power is lost in the labyrinth of flattery and becomes a prisoner surrounded by a circle of flatterers.—Courtesy Dawn
By Mubarak Ali