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Status refers to ones standing in society. The word comes from the Latin statum or standing. It refers to a person’s legal or professional standing (unmarried, a doctor, etc.). It also means your value and importance to society.

What counts as status changes over time according to societies needs. In the past hunters, priests, and knights had status. More recently status in the developed world relates to financial achievement.

The results of high status are good. They include resources, freedom, space, comfort, time and a sense of lovableness or worth. Through invitations, flattery, deference and attention.

The assumptions about what drives us to seek status include money, fame and influence.

There is also love.

In fact everything else may be just a means to, or tokens of, love.

They are just things to make us feel visible and an object of concern.




People who hold important positions in society are “somebodies.” Those who don’t “nobodies.” Both terms have no meaning. We are all individuals with equals claims on existence.

Yet such words do show the different treatment different groups receive. Those without status are all but invisible. Their complexities trampled upon. Their individuality ignored.

The gravest penalty of low status rarely lies in mere physical discomfort. It consists more often in the challenge that low status poses to a person’s sense of self-respect. If it is not accompanied by humiliation, discomfort is endurable for long periods. Soldiers and explorers can.

And the benefits of high status are seldom limited to wealth. Many wealthy continue to accumulate sums beyond anything like what they need. Their efforts are peculiar only if we insist on a material explanation. As much as money, they seek the respect that derives from the process of gathering it.

We all hunger for dignity. If a future society were to offer love as a reward for a different less consumerist, selfish lifestyle, then more of us might strive to live that way. If it offered reward for collecting plant pots then no doubt they would become objects of rendering desire.



Status Anxiety

Why do we need the world’s love? Why do we strive for notice? To be “somebody.”

The attentions of others matter to us because we are often unsure of our own value. All of us tend to have thoughts that indicate we are both good and bad. Thus we tend to allow others’ views to play a role in how we see ourselves. Our sense of identity held captive by the judgements of those we live among.

If they find our jokes amusing, we grow confident in our power to amuse. If they praise us, we develop an impression of high merit. And if they avoid our gaze when we enter a room or look impatient after we have revealed our occupation we may fall into feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness.




Ideally, we would be more impermeable. We would be unshaken whether we were ignored or noticed, admired or ridiculed. If someone praised us insincerely, we would not be seduced. And if we had carried out a fair assessment of our strengths and decided upon our value, another’s suggestion that we were inconsequential would not wound us. We would know our worth.

Instead, we each appear to hold within ourselves a range of divergent views as to our native qualities. We discern evidence of cleverness and stupidity, humour and dullness, importance and superfluity. Amid such uncertainty, we turn to the wider world to settle the question of our significance. Neglect highlights our latent negative self-assessments. A smile or compliment brings out the converse. We are bound to the affections of others to appreciate ourselves.

And we are capable of thinking life worth living because someone remembers our name or sends us a fruit basket.

Given the precariousness of our self-image, it should not be surprising that we are anxious about the place we occupy in the world.

This place will determine how much love we receive and so, in turn, whether we can like or must lose confidence in ourselves.


This essay draws on the work of Alan de Botton, particularly his book Status Anxiety. To learn more click here.

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