Let’s proceed from the assumption that most human beings are rational creatures guided by a healthy self-interest.
If that is so, then what makes people invest inordinate amounts of time and energy into petty squabbles that could be resolved within minutes through the medium of a frank discussion? There has to be something they get from crating a quagmire of meaningless little intrigues that poison their lives for decades.
Obviously, one part of it must be a profound need for a high level of stress. Still, they choose this specific way of maintaining a stressful environment so there must be some sort of a pay-off in it for them.
True story. There are these two academics who have been engaged in a vendetta for over 20 years. The number of nasty things they have done to each other (and each other’s friends, and each other’s graduate students) is staggering. The initial reason for the animosity between them was that when they were newly hired Assistant Profs, the Chair of the department invited one of them to a party at his house but failed to invite another one.
Instead of getting together for a beer and sharing a kindly joke about the older academic getting all dotty and trying to play favorites, the young professors conceived a profound mutual hatred and have been persecuting each other ever since. The rift-causing Chair has been dead for over a decade, yet the drama does not abate. It is sad to think of all the articles these very talented scholars could have published, all of the students they could have mentored, and all of the parties they could have organized as friends had they not been so dedicated to wasting their lives on this idiotic squabble.
I see one person after another get bogged down in the muddle of their own making. Good, intelligent people they all are. Yet the need to get into a huff over something completely trivial and blow it out of all proportion seems overpowering. This mystifies me because of how useless and un-productive this is. For me, the best-case scenario is: I come to work, do my job, like everybody, everybody likes me, peace, love, bubble gum.
Only too often, however, I discover that many people can’t tolerate a peaceful environment and need to taint it with petty intrigues. If you have any insights why people do that, please share.
P.S. I would like to keep this discussion intelligent, which means that silly suggestions that this is somehow more ubiquitous in academia than anywhere else are not welcome. I’ve had enough of dealing with people’s immaturity this month to last me until May. And if you insist, I will regale you with a story from the world of business which is even worse than the one you just read about.