Why we love A**holes

Abhishek Paul
2 min readApr 25, 2019

There’s an incident attributed to Stalin that doesn’t seem as far fetched to me today.

It was 1934, a western journalist asks Stalin, “Mister Premier,” the journalist said, “How long do you think you can keep torturing and murdering your own people till they rise up in revolt?”. There was no reply.

Stalin then reached down and picked up one of the chickens and held it tight under his arm so it could not move.

He continued to reply to the journalist’s question as calm and as confidently as before. As he spoke he began to rip the feathers off the chickens back in great handfuls. The poor bird squawked and screeched in agony. Stalin’s grasp tightened. His iron grip held the bird firm as he calmly turned to the journalist and spoke.

The journalist could hardly speak. He stared in horror as Stalin savaged the chicken. The bird nearly limp, convulsed slightly as Stalin placed it back on the ground. It staggered clumsily away, unlikely to have been able to process what was just done to it. A feeling of disgust covered over by fear was palpable upon everyone there. Stalin reached into his pocket for a handful of grain and continued on as before to feed the chickens who flocked around him. Identifying the wounded chicken he had just damaged creeping back toward the edge of the flock to peck at the bits of grain remaining on the ground, reached again into his jacket pocket and pulled out a fresh handful of grain. He knelt down a bit and held out his hand toward the injured animal. The bird looked for a moment, cocked its head to the side a bit, and then timidly step toward Stalin. In a moment, it was eating the food right out of the hand that minutes before had torn the feathers right off it’s back.

Stalin dropped the remaining grain on the ground stood and turned toward the journalist. Did that answer your question, he said. The point he was making was that as long as people are dependent on you for food, they will put up with up with previously unimaginable abuse and suffering from the same hands.

When we look at a**hole behaviour at work, we see a similar dependency at play. It is not that people are not impacted by the bad behaviour of managers / peers, but rather they are willing to pay the price to meet their more important needs. It is up to others (us) to stand up and protect them.