Primus inter pares is a Latin phrase meaning first among equals. It is typically used as an honorary title for someone who is formally equal to other members of their group but is accorded unofficial respect, traditionally owing to their seniority in office.
My goal for this article is to highlight the idea of a perpetual rat-race of establishing personal identity in a group of equals. As such, this work is a synergic product of many imbued minds. The history behind this phrase is another reason that has prompted me to write this article. Speaking historically, the Princeps Senatus of the Roman Senate was such a figure and initially bore only the distinction that he was allowed to speak first during the debate.
Trying to be the first is the very natural instinct of human being. Life is a game, a race, a competition, and you better win it. Our schoolmates, our best friends, and even siblings are seen as competitors – the more they win, the less there is for you. Of course, we try to appear generous and cheer for others’ successes, but inwardly, so many of us are eating our hearts out when others achieve.
We all have been taught since childhood to excel in exams, come out as a winner in games, and be the topper in all wakes of life. These lessons are inculcated deep in our psyche and we carry the imprints to our graves. Throughout our lives, winning all battle is all that counts. Quite often, the trade-off rates are very high.
Unlike ancient warriors, we all confront a conflict every day at our workplaces – some we win, some we lose. Individuals that are a part of a team (or group, or organization, or consortium) have an inherent conflict between acting in their self-interest, as an individual, while following, or even circumventing, a group’s ideals.
In a highly competitive workplace environment, there is a delicate playing field of striking a balance between being yourself and still belonging to the group. We see this conflict play out in satire, science fiction, and in our daily lives. Almost all professionals face this conflict throughout their career… and in some cases even after retirement.
The classical “Game Theory” explains how and why we behave as we do. Developed extensively in the 1950s by many scholars, this theory has applications in all fields of social science, as well as in logic, systems science and computer science.
Whether or not we have read this theory, we instinctively follow the same. As time goes on, we see the benefits of acting for ourselves as individuals. In our quest for self-gain, we always try to seize a more powerful role. This is a clear case of Primus inter Pares, meaning first among equals, someone who is above the others in their likeness. While we are supposed to be team members like all of the others, we clearly develop a sense of self that we are “more equal” than the others.
It is interesting to note that not all individuals carefully choose one path or the other. Most of them grab whatever they can and naturally adapt to their surroundings like a chameleon to survive. This habit is often used in social situations, like changing speech patterns or body language to best fit the situation as many of us maintain two or more hidden identities. We keep on switching our identities as and when we deem fit. In the pursuit of seeking more power, our behaviour before our boss is different. The attitude change when we handle our subordinates and Bradish whatever authority we possess.
Individuals of different mindsets assimilating into a team formed to achieve a common objective is a critical phenomenon. It decides the individual’s identity within a group and whether or not he will be accepted by that group and vice versa.