OPINION –One of my favorite unconventional discussions when I was hosting talk radio centered around the question “What is your current status symbol?”
The answers were as varied as could be, and there was no wrong answer. For some, their status symbol was a nice pair of shoes, a new coat or children who were members of the Honor Society. For others, it was a smoke-spewing “brodozer” pickup truck, exotic sports car or cabin in the woods.
Some of the answers were as thoughtful as they were unexpected.
One woman stated her greatest status symbol was a box of love letters from her now-deceased husband. Others spoke of a debt-free lifestyle that kept them free from financial bondage.
I’d like to think each of us who participated in that conversation gained a better understanding of ourselves. This is not something that is actively encouraged in our society today.
Like it or not, we all must contend with status and the demands it can place on our lives.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses,” but few are willing to admit we would ever give in to petty societal pressures. At its heart, status is a false but demanding god that many choose to worship.
Status demands that we care so deeply about what others think of us that we are willing to abandon our deepest principles or healthy habits in order to keep up appearances. This dependency on outside approval can also lead to serious unhappiness when we are constantly comparing ourselves to others.
The other side of this coin is when our quest for status makes us look for reasons to consider ourselves better than others. This kind of competitiveness leads us to view happiness and success as a zero-sum proposal.
We can mistakenly buy into the notion that if someone else is happy, there is less happiness for the rest of us. In reality, there is an unlimited supply of fulfillment, but it is most easily accessed by those who have discovered the power of serving others.
Status seeking has a way of narrowing our focus so severely that we ignore the people and things which matter most, like family, friends and personal character.
Paul Rosenberg makes a strong case that we can become so fixated on titles, awards, material goods and praise that we put more effort into convincing others that we’re a good person than actually becoming one.
Rosenberg doesn’t sugarcoat things when he writes:
Why care about the other guy so much? Why not care about you – what’s in you, what you can develop, what makes you happy – rather than what impresses other people?
Rosenberg also notes that another downside to status, historically, is how it has been a stumbling block to the people who became so invested in being seen as better than their fellow man that they allowed themselves to be abused and exploited by their leaders.
The key thing to remember is that the quest for status has been trained into us from the time we were very young. Is it really leading us to the kinds of lives we’d choose to lead if we weren’t so concerned about how others see us?
The answer isn’t to turn our backs on society and to sequester ourselves in some remote location. It does require that we find the courage to stop running with the crowd for the sake of gaining favor.
That’s something few people are willing to do because of the obvious risk of being labeled as a dissident.
Lawrence Reed addressed this quandary in a recent essay titled “What Does the World Need More Of?”
The world needs more men and women who do not have a price at which they can be bought; who do not borrow from integrity to pay for expediency; who are not afraid of taking risks to advance what is right; who stand for what’s true and not simply what they think others will fall for; and who are honest in all matters, large and small.
It may seem like a tall order but these are the characteristics of those who measurably improve the world around them. Praise is not their primary concern.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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