December 15, 2013
Why the Gifted Are at Heightened Risk
...A review of the literature by Zapf and Einarsen (2005) suggests that individuals describing themselves “as more achievement-oriented and as more conscientious than their colleagues” (p. 253) are more often mobbing targets. The (D.) perfectionism that is a virtue of the highly gifted individual is (A.) misunderstood by others, whereas for the gifted individual this is but an expression of his or her (D.) estheticism in the same way that a perfect diamond’s refraction of light is also beautiful. Colleagues will know that their work does not stack up by comparison, and they will need no one to tell them so. The gifted individual’s perfectionism and estheticism are seen as a threat, even if the gifted individual does not speak about them and does not offer criticism of others. A highly gifted adult cannot obscure his or her presence in such a milieu even through innocuous behavior. Such a presence will become and remain a recognized social fact because gossip, malicious and otherwise, will establish it as such. This malice will enforce the gifted adult’s social isolation, probably also intensifying his or her search for the meaning of that social isolation. Highly gifted adults’ (A.) difference from others, exacerbated by (A.) others’ misunderstanding of this difference, offers less capable colleagues the opportunity to establish by rumor and innuendo other socially recognized “facts,” to the detriment of the gifted person, whether those “facts” are actually true or not.
It is unhappily the case that there are not always enough places in superlative organizations to house the number of highly talented and gifted individuals who merit such positions. At institutions less than first-rate, therefore, one characteristically finds a small number of highly talented individuals who merit placement at a truly first-rate institution, surrounded by a rather larger number of less talented individuals who know that they could never reasonably aspire to such a position. The latter will typically compensate for their sense of inferiority by seeking ego-satisfaction through the acquisition of institutional power and prerogative. This power they will then tend to employ to make others’ lives hell, often targeting highly talented colleagues whose greater abilities evoke their own deep-seated insecurity.
Einarsen’s (1999) research on “predatory mobbing” (i.e., cases where the victim has not acted in any provocative manner that might justify the behavior of the predator) gives examples of the foregoing destructive cycle. Stucke’s (2002, cited in Zapf & Einarsen, 2005, p. 251) study establishes empirically that “active mobbing behavior [is] highest for a group high in narcissism but low in self-esteem stability, [as this group’s] individuals had to stabilize their high but unstable selfesteem by treating other individuals negatively.” In other words, inflated but weak egos need to beat down genuine quality in others. This is a “textbook description” not only of the organizational culture of the institution where I worked but indeed of the cultural syndrome of the whole broader social milieu of which the institution is characteristic. Zapf and Einarsen (2005) explain how such a dynamic develops on the microsocial level:
This group of victims was certainly [D.] not among the least efficient employees in the organization. Their problem was that they clashed with the norms of the work group to which they belonged. It is likely that in this case, the victims’ [B.] conscientiousness went against a group culture characterized by rigidity and low tolerance for diversity. These victims were probably perceived as constant annoyances or even threats to the work group to which they belonged. As a consequence, the group may have started to harass these individuals, either to enforce conformity or to get rid of the person. (p. 254; emphasis added)...