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Status is a constant in human life, although much of the time we don’t think about it because it’s everywhere and takes so many forms.
It’s been said that if it doesn’t happen on YouTube, it didn’t happen. But are those messages helping or hindering? Are we unintentionally inviting individuals to seek their moments of fame at the expense of building community and demonstrating civility with others?
Riches, strength, height, slenderness, muscularity. Being the best at something. Being the worst. Being the funniest. The rudest. The most beautiful. The most intelligent. The most aggressive. The most notorious. Being top dog or official. Wearing the latest clothes or uniform. Owning the most land. Having the most attractive or dominant partner. A bigger house. The best vacations. Knowing the right people. Knowing the most people.
Status isn’t about being these things. Yet so many get drawn into the illusion.
We fight (some of us more than others) to rise in hierarchy, in whatever form it may take. Employees sacrifice one another for attention from those who can promote them. Feuding ex-lovers exaggerate truths in order to gain support from friends or the judiciary process. Bystanders take video of a scenario rather than leaping into action to help someone in danger. We cry foul against former bosses, politicians, religious leaders, business owners and neighbours.
Because, sadly, outrage captures more attention (and thus status) than civility-based behaviours.
It’s inherently human to want to be significant in some capacity.
It’s natural to want to feel more control and influence over the progression of our lives.
You see it in infants striving for independence. One of my earliest memories (I think it’s real one) was of feeling outraged at being stuck in my crib when I wanted to be free. Together with my twin sister, we bounced the mattress up and down until we could climb out. The drive to walk, feed oneself and talk are all about having more influence over our situation.
When we feel recognized, appreciated and respected, we feel like our lives are better. Feeling valued and admired for who or what we are goes a long way to repelling feelings of helplessness and uncertainty.
Researchers tell us that when we have status, wide recognition, we tend to live longer and healthier lives. Actors and directors who win Oscars live longer than those who were merely nominated. Status helps us emotionally, not just financially.
The higher the position in a hierarchy we occupy, the greater health, self-esteem, happiness and longevity we enjoy. But by focusing solely on status, we can lose ourselves. When the quest is abused or is all-consuming, it becomes a poison.
When you have a sense of status (high or low), you feel that certain behaviours are expected of you. And this can lead you to behave in ways you don’t always want to but you feel compelled to. For example, I had a client who would spend money she didn’t have to enhance her perceived status. She would spend all her hard-earned cash – and then some – on lavish boutique clothes, a fancy car, and expensive jewelry, all just to impress people. She was tens of thousands of dollars in debt by the time she came for help.
When we forget the difference between who we are and who we seem to be in comparison to others, we’re walking the road to unhappiness.
If you want to maintain your status, learn to relax. When you feel you always have to keep your dignity, remain serious or inflexible, it actually lowers your real power. Embrace civility at all levels and your status will be unshakable. There are tangible benefits to showing kindness, objectivity and respect, as well as being able to laugh at ourselves.
When someone is struggling to maintain status, they may try to control the content of jokes and stories because these threaten their status as total purveyors of reality.
Having humour and civility traits are a great counterbalance to the loss of perspective that status can inflict.
Status doesn’t necessarily equate to wisdom, intelligence, judiciousness or decency. We might simply have been conditioned to defer to it unquestionably.
Let’s start a new movement: daily expressions of civility. It will raise your status – in my eyes, anyway.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.
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