Amal Chatterjee
8 min readNov 19, 2019


Source : Google photo of sycophancy

Synopsis : A sycophant is a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage. Sycophancy is more common than one would care to believe because it is a method by which weak people protect themselves who are in vulnerable positions and can’t afford to lose their jobs if they are not sycophants. People with courage to speak the truth no matter what punishment they get are the real unsung heroes whom the world cares little to remember. Nevertheless we should all try to live honestly and speak out against corruption.

Source : Google photo of Marco Polo in the court of Kublai Khan

Once Marco Polo asked Kublai Khan why the Khan wanted him to stay in China when he was so homesick, the Khan answered that he valued Marco Polo because he always spoke the truth without fear. He said that he was surrounded by sycophants who always said what they thought will please the Khan so he wanted Marco Polo to stay in his court. He promised him untold riches and comfort if he stayed but Marco Polo returned to his native land where no one believed his stories and travels to China. He ended up in jail where his cell mate believed in him and took notes of all his travels and of his stay in China in the court of Kublai Khan that was later published.

All powerful people are surrounded by sycophants who shield them from knowing the truth because they are afraid to speak their mind fearing retribution. If you just read the news in the United States, you will notice the spate of retribution for anyone who speaks against the president because the president demands absolute loyalty like a mafia don so people are afraid and keep quiet to keep their job and protect themselves from vengeance. The mafia people can kill anyone who criticizes them and exposes their wrongdoings that a modern day president cannot do but he can still ruin the career of a person of ability and good conscience.

There was a great historian of international repute in India who wrote about the wrong doings of Nehru who was the prime minister and published a book about it that Nehru’s sycophants read and underlined the paragraphs for Nehru to read. Nehru was a very arrogant and vengeful person who never accepted his wrong doings and blamed the historian who had only written about the facts. The result was that the historian who was the Director General of the All India Radio was summarily fired from his position and had to leave India because no one could offer him a job fearing the retribution from the Prime Minister.

He was offered a fellowship by the Oxford University because he was such an eminent historian so the poor chap stayed in England in exile until his death, such was the price he paid for telling the truth. When Rajeev Dixit openly started talking on U tube about the massive corruption of the Gandhi family members who ruled India for most of the post independence period, he was murdered. I still do not know who ordered the killing but it was supposed to send a message to those who dared to speak against the ruling family what would happen to them.

In the olden days the kings ordered the beheading of the person who brought him the bad news that some dictators still practice but there are many ways a critic can be silenced and made to pay with misery and unemployment so only the sycophants can survive. I think it is their only survival strategy where speaking the truth can hurt them.

In a vibrant democracy people feel free to criticize the one in power but often they too pay the price like the case Rajeev Dixit mentioned above. People who abuse their position and steal money from the public coffers are mortally afraid that their misdeeds will come to light and they will have to pay the price so they want to eliminate all critics which is hard to do in a democracy but easy to do in autocratic dictatorships.

This has always been so historically speaking when kings and Pharaohs routinely silenced their critics in the most brutal way possible. The Egyptian kings even ordered the accomplishments of their predecessors defaced from the temple walls and their statuary vandalized to show only their own glory. I think it is the human nature to be intolerant of others who outshine them so they become very jealous.

You have noticed in the classrooms during your high school and later college days when some students show open jealousy toward any student who is smarter than the rest and who also happens to be the favorite of the teachers. This is the start of the feeling of superiority over others and the start of a vengeful nature in them. Some of them can enter politics and later may become powerful but their vengeful nature and feeling of superiority stays with them even if they do not meet the standard of excellence in public service.

How such people get elected is a whole new story that I will not bother to write about now because corruption in the electoral process is a well known subject that needs not any elaboration at this point. An honest person does not need sycophants around him because he does not do any thing wrong in his life and encourages others also to be honest but a corrupt person who becomes powerful through fraudulent election , vote buying and rigged election surrounds himself or herself with sycophants who serve his ego and protect themselves at the same time.

There is a natural tendency among the common people to suck up to anyone who may serve their interest. If an ugly woman is praised as beautiful and gorgeous , she may be very pleased and buy you dinner in a fancy restaurant. There was a gambler in our neighborhood who ran for the office of Mayor and lost badly but during the election campaign, he gave food to anyone who would vote for him so all the grass root people we call GRPs came in large numbers to help themselves with free food and started calling the fellow mayor . No one really cared if he won or lost because they were after the free food so sucking up to the fellow was in their interest. Later the fellow lost his house to the bank and disappeared from the community to every one’s relief. He did not pay the caterer either and left behind his misdeeds of fraud everywhere.

It is also the tendency among many who only exist to serve their own interest first . They will smile at you and even say hello at first only to show up at your gate later and try to convince you to buy what they are selling. If you say no to them, they will no longer say hello or smile at you because you do not serve their interest. One fellow who was our neighbor came running and panting because he was fat to say that he was selling pork but we do not eat pork so he disappeared never to talk to us or say hello.

Others have tried to sell us something we do not want but used false pretense to do so and now have totally disappeared because we did not serve their interest. I have always told my wife and children never to suck up to anyone for any reason because it is the start of sycophancy that they must avoid at all cost.

Sycophancy is utterly demeaning and humiliating because it puts you under the power of someone who can exert his or her control over you. The sycophants are weak people who are always afraid to lose their jobs or their social position so they stick to those who can be their benefactor. Some enrich themselves enormously because a corrupt person buys his loyalty by rewarding those who are his sycophants so you will hear of cases where a dictator or a politician spreads his loot among the people who show loyalty so it again becomes a case of self interest. Not every one has the guts to criticize a person in power and suffer the consequences unless he is a noted historian and has an offer of fellowship from Harvard or Cambridge.

I have come to think of sycophancy as a weakness of character than anything else. It is also found in the nature where a weak animal quickly subjugates itself to a more powerful one thus gaining some advantage. They show their obedience by licking or putting their tail between legs or cower in fright so the aggressive animal backs off from attacking. We too have our weaknesses and fear the powerful.

People who have no fear and stand up to tyrants are called brave and often pay a high price. They never bow down to bad people and openly challenge them by defying them. They do not become sycophants even if given a share of the loot. Such people become great leaders of their country because they are honest and try to uproot corruption, stop the loot of the public money and give the wrong doers the harshest penalty. They also attract people who are honest and are not afraid to speak the truth therefore it is known that good people attract good people and bad people attract their kind.

I have seen this in Vietnam during the war where I used to work as a volunteer agronomist in rural areas. I used to see some very bad people who were doing very bad things to the people because in war they saw an opportunity to be their real self and make some profit out of it. They knew that the war was wrong but they did not care. They were also sycophants to their seniors and some were outright psychos so the war brought them out of the woodwork so to speak. In the normal world of law and order such people had no role to play.

In the normal world, an honest person makes a lot of enemies who are stopped to steal and account for their stolen wealth . Many are caught and sent to jail and their stolen wealth recovered and sent to the national treasury but in many countries the corrupt people are never brought to justice because they protect themselves from judicial inquiries by appointing top notch lawyers who know how to protect their paymaster.

But Marco Polo was young and idealist who was fearless and always spoke the truth. He was not a sycophant so won the admiration of the Khan whom everyone feared. Such people are hard to come by these days.

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