Human relationships have degraded into transactions – “you help me and I’ll help you” encapsulates how most relationships operate today. Perhaps I’m too young to reminisce on the days when people invested time and energy to learn from one another and share life experiences, but I’ve noticed that people are subconsciously prejudice when they encounter someone they’ve never met before.
Alain De Botton, a philosopher, gives an insightful quick talk about how ‘status anxiety’ has found its way into common society. This was my favorite part of his talk:
Look, as soon as you’ve finished college, what starts to matter is what you do in life. The first question becomes, what do you do? And according to how you answer that question, people are either incredibly pleased to see you or make a run for it. In other words, how clever and nice and friendly and, you know, sympathetic you are ceases to matter in most social occasions. We live in a world surrounded by snobs. What is a snob?—A snob is someone who takes a small part of you and uses that to judge the whole of you. And the dominant snobbery nowadays is job snobbery.
We’ve all been in situations during networking events when someone approaches us, introduces themselves, asks what you do, then makes it obvious through facial and body expressions whether they want to continue to talk to you or find a way to escape the conversation. The fact that people value a person’s life based on such superficial criteria is disappointing.
Even more dangerous, is that status anxiety leads to more people being dishonest in order to gain favor. Someone may slightly exaggerate their job title, or the work they do because they’re slightly ashamed. Dan Ariely mentions in his book – The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty about how these little lies eventually lead to bigger lies. Just look at the number of executives that have been caught lying about their education (Scott Thompson the ex-CEO of Yahoo comes to mind).
In an ideal world, we’d like our true identity and perceived identity to be line. This is becoming increasingly difficult with the implicit knowledge that we’ll be treated differently depending on what our perceived identity is. There’s a conflict of interest of sorts. We want to be honest and truthful but there’s an incentive to be otherwise. I don’t have a general solution in mind to curb this narrow-minded behavior, since I think the issue of status anxiety is deeply rooted in our culture. I do however, think that on an individual level we can make a more conscious effort to surround ourselves with people who have a lower tendency to lie and exaggerate. And if you ever go to networking events, my best advice is to be yourself and not care what other people think of you.