Writer and philosopher Alain De Botton asserts that when you first encounter a stranger in New York City, in about 30 seconds you’ve been categorized, assigned a simplistic persona, and judged. It may be he’s being kind — it probably takes less time than that. But it doesn’t matter, and that’s what De Botton wants to say.

De Botton’s concerned that someone may fall into the pernicious grip of “status anxiety,” a worry that we’re under-appreciated by people we meet.

It’s a problem the moment we exit school, as what we do becomes others’ view of who we are. He calls people who oversimplify and judge others “snobs.” Which is what we are, since we all do it.

 

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Do you have a business card? What does it say you are? Account manager, plumber, nurse, writer, custodian? Is that all that you are? Of course not. So we have to remember first of all how limited such caricatures are, and keep such silly judgements away from our fragile egos.

Next, De Botton would like to see us do what we can do to stop pigeonholing others and making them feel “less than.” It requires a bit more imagination on our parts, a bit more compassion, and a willingness to assume and embrace complexity in others. And it takes time. More time. Upwards of 30 seconds.