6 November 2012

Social climbing is not a form of exercise

In my utopian world, there would be no social climbing. Not even in really expensive shoes.

It would be safe to assume that social climbers have a latin based horticultural name that encompasses ‘an overall decorativeness cloaking viciously thorned, tenacious climbing roots’. Like ivy or wisteria, flaws can be concealed beneath a benign and attractive exterior and the damage caused by their relentless climb towards the sky can remain undetected for quite a while.

The tragedy of social climbers is that so often they have, as most people do, a fundamental sweetness about them, a broad appeal to the masses. They have ambition, a zest for life and are rarely stupid. However, they become so fixed on the climb that they become careless of those that nuture them or allow them opportunity. In the times ‘ye olden’ social climbers were often ambitious mothers with a view to improving the lot of their daughters (and the wider family) through matrimony, but the modern social climber is invariably found within the workplace.

Social climbers are cruelly careless of the ethics and expectations of others and carefully cultivate relationships with people they see as advantageous. They hoard credit and apportion blame. They tend towards one close frenemy or no known associates within their work habitat freeing them to big note themselves or patronise as appropriate and they are ruthless with anybody expressing sentiment or genuine feeling, crowing that professionalism and ambition are better bedfellows than ethics or kindness. They are destructive in that they prey on the insecurities of those around them.

In a utopian world, the social climber would be denied the environmental conditions to flourish. Individual contributions might not be measured in terms of heirarchy or power or wealth but rather through demonstrated values and a genuine commitment to doing good work and being supportive of their colleagues. Those would be the ones to move up through the ranks. Leading by example, the gentle loyalties and integrity would rate higher than the lick-arse antics of the social climber.

It’s a fundamental flaw in the modern workplace that social climbers are more often recognised by management then their quieter counterparts. It is also a flaw that those among us that lack the courage to publicly challenge the social climber are complicit in their upward journey. Our silent support of the quieter colleague should be vocal, our support should be documented and repeated. For like all injustice in the world, to say nothing is to enable it.

It is said that to walk a mile in somebody’s shoes is to better recognise their journey. In a workplace where you might treat people judged on the price of their shoes or the title on their business card it is worth remembering that there are many around you who will do the journey barefoot having lent their Christian Louboutins to somebody else.