Part 5 of the series Status Anxiety looks at the rewards we seek in society. We look for rewards in terms of promotion, money and buying a nicer house. For most of us the reward we really want is attention.
Alain de Botton investigates how our anxieties about status affect every aspect of our every day lives. We worry about being made redundant and how it will affect the way others see us, we worry about passed over for promotion, we worry about being kept waiting, we worry about our colleagues and even our close friends doing better than us.
However what gives us status in a given society keeps changing throughout history in the 21st century our status comes from fashion, business, sport or all three. Although the ways we attain high status have varied throughout history the consequences of high status are familiar accross time and it comes down to being treated well, being treated with respect and with a kind of love.
It is common to assume that the worst thing about low paid work is the money just as the money is the best thing about highly paid work. There is another way of looking at this isue which puts status at the heart of the subject. It could be argued that what make low paid work really distasteful comes down to how one is treated and it isn’t about the money per se, it is about the lack of status involved. Many low paid jobs leave us feeling as though we don’t properly exist. No cares who we are and what we think. Conversely part of what keeps people working even after they have made a lot of money is the respect they receive from others, they are looked up to, held in high esteem and even photographed on the way to the shops.
The philosopher Adam Smith questioned the point of the rat race in his famous book “The Wealth of Nations”.
“What is all the toil and bustle for? What are people aiming at with their ambitions and their frenzied pursuits of wealth, power and pre-eminence? Are they looking to supply their basic needs? No. The wages of the poorest labourer can supply those. What then are they after? They want to be treated well, they want to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, kindness and approval.”
It is agonising to compare ourselves with people we consider our equals i.e. returning to a school reunion can trigger huge amounts of anxiety. “Every time a friend of mine succeeds, a small part of me dies” Gore Vidal famously said.
Watch this short video to see what further conclusions Alain de Botton comes to about our need for love and status.
Posted by Shona Lockhart on 18th June 2012