In the over 3 decades we have known each other, David has frequently remarked that some of my long term friends have a tendency to search for “chinks in my armor.” (For readers who are unfamiliar with this expression, it has been used since the 17th century to refer to a weak spot in a figurative suit of armor.) Apparently, and according to David, some of these otherwise loyal friends of mine are trying to find out my weaknesses, my secret desires, and other vulnerabilities in an attempt to “take me down a few notches.” Whenever this happens, David is amazed that I fail to react and further, I often seem not to notice I am being scrutinized by someone who is looking for situations in which I may lose my cool, or worse. I explain to David that my wonderful father taught me that someone will always be better than me at something at which I excel; someone will always be jealous of me for being better at something than they are; and there will always be people who dislike me. My dad also instilled the notion in me that no one, absolutely no one, is better than me and that, in order for other people to respect me and believe in me, I have to respect and believe in myself. Therefore, from an early age, when friends and foes have tried to find chinks in my armor, their search is generally unrewarded. I once had a boss who was, and is, a miserable human being who is almost universally disliked. She looked at me one day and asked, “So, don’t you have any bad habits?”. I thought about her question for a few seconds as I struggled to find an answer that would appease her, in her attempt to learn something she could later use against me. I soon smiled and said, “Yes. I have one, very bad, habit. I chew gum. And sometimes, if I am feeling naughty, I blow bubbles with my chewing gum.” I thought she was going to faint! No, I am not perfect. I make mistakes on a daily basis (and if you’ve ever heard me play the bass guitar or the piano, you know I make lots of awful sounding mistakes!). But, my armor is “chink proof,” in that I have found ways to excel during adversities, to rise to the occasion, and most important, to respect myself in every situation. Words to the wise, if you are looking for chinks in my armor, your search may take longer than you expect.
It is interesting that people “snipe” at others in an attempt, I guess, to make themselves feel better about their own situation. Such behavior was first pointed out to me by a high school classmate, Steve, during our first years in college. He told me that his roommate was always looking for chinks in his armor, something which, until then, was unfamiliar to me. But, I got it, and subsequently observed it, usually when one person was consistently ahead of others as both Melissa and Steve were and are. It was also interesting to me to learn that this phenomenon exists in other cultures – as when I learned the chinking was referred to Tall Poppy Syndrome in Australia. I both observed it when I lived there and read about it subsequently in a book on cultural norms in business. You see, the Tall Poppy gets cut down. It stands above the other poppies and thus, gets snipped. As a result, according to the culture book, many people hold back in work, school, or other activities for fear of becoming the tall poppy and getting called out for it. We once observed dysfunctional legal department behavior related to the tall poppy syndrome. There was a relatively new hire lawyer at a governmental agency legal department. He was not a new lawyer, just new to the department. In the past, the standard practice in the department was to work up a case, settle it, and move on. And, the practice was well known to the opposing firms which regularly litigated the cases. The new hire lawyer believed he could win some of these cases (with similar fact patterns). He hired us to test strategies and he was on to something, he/they could win some of the case. But, the “snippers” came out and, while he was not forced out, over a few years, the pressures were clear – don’t buck the status quo. Being a tall poppy comes with risks. Hopefully, those who are above the rest move on to where they can perform at a level comfortable to them, or perhaps, they move up and find ways to manage the others.