What’s the Big Idea?
We are surrounded by snobs, says Alain de Botton, author of Religion for Atheists and The Consolations of Philosophy. “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 if we’re all surrounded by snobs, then it follows that most of us must be snobs.
Alain de Botton is doing more than anyone in recent history to turn the self-help genre into something worthwhile and genuinely beneficial to people – something beyond a cynical, patronizing cash-grab.
One of the main social/psychological ills de Botton is seeking to remedy is what he calls “status anxiety.” In capitalist cultures, he says, (and before anyone gets all hot and bothered by the critique, de Botton himself is very much a capitalist, actively engaged in marketing his books) the first thing we ask someone is “what do you do [for a living].” It’s like that sniffing ritual when two dogs meet: “Sniff. Sniff. Aha. Gotcha.”
[VIDEO] Alain de Botton on status anxiety and how to overcome it.
Typically, says de Botton, depending on the response to the job question, our interest in the other person rises or drops sharply off. This, he points out, is terribly sad, misleading, and productive of all kinds of harmful social division and personal suffering. Why should we be tribalized or ostracized on the basis of one (admittedly time-consuming) aspect of our lives, our deeper (and, de Botton argues, more important) human traits invisible until/unless we’ve passed the sniff test?
What’s the Significance?
De Botton says that status anxiety is more pernicious and destructive than most of us can imagine. It convinces vulnerable people (without fascinating job titles) that their best personal qualities are worthless. It causes people to strive and struggle to meet goals that do little to further their inner well-being, on the (often unconscious) assumption that if their status improves, their worries will vanish.
Once you’ve recognized the symptoms of status anxiety and snobbery in yourself, says de Botton, the remedy is to get out of the status game altogether, surrounding yourself with friends who are willing to take the time to get to know a person, regardless of the first impression. He points out that it’s easier to realize your human potential when you feel free to experiment, to make mistakes, to take your time becoming somebody without feeling like a complete nobody in the meantime.
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