“Dai nemici mi guardo io dagli amici mi guardi dio!” – I can protect myself from my enemies, may God protect me from my friends.
Just like the Sicilians said : only your real friends tell you when your face is dirty; I would add that pretend friends are those that would tell you you have a glowing visage and tell the world of the filthiness of your face.
It is a well know truism that no man is an island, and thus we all have friends, or at least what we think are friends. And of course having been around for a while and having learnt from the experiences of others, I know that very very few of us have real friends in every sense of the word; the sort that would genuinely celebrate our successes with us, join us in our moments of despair, and laugh with us when all is beyond hope and mirth is all that is left for us to while the time away with as we approach the guillotine.
For most of us, unfortunately, we are stuck with deeply flawed acquaintances, people who hold deep seated ill feelings towards us and are all but foes, except we call them our friends. Often all it takes to show their true colours is a bit of success, or failure for that matter, coming ones way and their tongues will wag negatively at every chance you are not present.
This behind the back talk manifests itself in three ways; ways that are well understood and only vary to reflect context. These are:
- Tall poppy syndrome
In this case, should you get ahead in life based on genuine merit, your own friends are among the first to make sure you are resented, attacked, cut down and vicisiouly criticised; usually in your absence. And this is often because they feel your talents and your achievements somehow elevate you above them and their station in life, and/or distinguishes you from your peers, who would be them in this case. Of course these actions do not help them in any way at all and is just an example of what false friendship can do a person who happens to get ahead of those in his circle.
- Dog in the manger
In this iteration of negative friendship, we have friends who will do everything they can to make sure: you are cockblocked by being mother hens or third wheels; delayed unnecessarily if they themselves are running late due to no fault of yours; you fail at something they have absolutely no chance of winning for themselves; denied opportunities they cannot have; and even go out their way to conceal and withhold information that may be beneficial to you, even if they have no way to benefit from it themselves and in fact would be better off having you be privy to.
- Crab mentality
This third one is the worst of the lot and is what is often referred to as “crabs in the bucket mentality”. It denotes a defeatist way of thinking in which people, usually passing themselves off as friends, who are stuck in the same circumstance as you, choose to make sure if they can’t have something then neither should you. The metaphor itself is derived from the behaviour of live crabs thrown into a barrel, whereby any crab that individually tries to climb out of the container, and make good its escape, is grabbed and dragged down by others in a useless competition which prevents any from getting out, and imminently leads to their collective demise.
When it comes to behaviour among humans, and worse among people that call themselves friends and who should be looking out for each other, it is often seen in instances in which those within your immediate circle will attempt to pull you down, dismiss, negate, badmouth, explain negatively, cast aspersions on, rubbish, and diminish the importance of any among their ranks who achieves success beyond the group; this is often down to negative competition that in the end pulls everyone down to the same lowly depths.
While I have quite a few friends afflicted with this sort of thing –and I have no doubt we all have just such friends–, it might not be clear why we resort to this primitive instinctive rat race mentality, especially we Africans as a society. But generally this are traits borne of short-sighted and destructive thinking, traits that unfortunately are exhibited in lieu of a “we are in this together” long-term, bigger picture and a constructive mentality. It is no wonder we live in communities that hate successful people and make conspiracies of their fortunes, that laugh at the downfall of such people, and especially if they just happened to have risen from the same dirt in which we, the crabs, remain toiling.
That is why as I oftentimes lay awake wondering about the intentions of those I count as friends, more so in light of some of the needlessly hurtful things they say behind my back. And as I muse frustratingly on my predicament, in exasperation, I whisper a prayer of words borrowed from Voltaire:
“Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies.”