Friday, September 7, 2007

Symbols of Your Status

A longtime volunteer visited about a month ago and we spent some of her time here walking around the neighborhood, visiting old friends and generally amusing ourselves.

One of the lessons she imparted to me was that when a family becomes somewhat financially stable, one of the first things they will buy is a large mirror with a highly decorative (or gaudy, depending on your perspective) gold frame. It will be in the first room of the house, often opposite the front door.

The mirror is obviously a status symbol to many in this community. In communities around the world they may be a nice house, more cows than your neighbor, clothing by certain designers or from certain stores, the slickest cell phone or ipod, or the latest “environmentally friendly” gadget that screams “I care about the world”.

In Seattle, not having to dress up for work (or wear any type of uniform) was a status symbol for a long time (“I’m so skilled that I don’t have to worry about how I look”) and having the latest and greatest outdoor equipment from REI too.

Status symbols can be incredibly subtle as well. They may be things that we consider absolutely necessary, an education, a safe and clean home, dental health, simply owning a car regardless of what model it is, anything that separates us from those with less.

Status symbols aren’t inherently evil. It is simply that the less utility they have outside the role of status symbol, the more they exist solely to define us in relation to those around us by our accumulation of material things (or the abstract items they represent, money, intelligence, power).

So how do you present yourself to the world, with what material items do you define yourself? Or, what can you not do without? What would you be embarrassed for others to think you didn’t have? It could be a thing, an attitude, an accomplishment, or many others.

I feel like I can’t expect any answers from you without answering the question myself, but in my current community, there are so many things, it’s almost impossible to list them all. The fact that I have regular work, my camera, my ipod, my ability to speak English are all things that separate me from many of the people here.

Only once I have an idea of what is separating me from people in my community can I begin to figure out how to connect with them.


kneek said...

Profound. I'm going to think on this one long and hard, and perhaps cross-post. Thank you.

Nic said...

It's such a huge subject with so many variables I had a really hard time with it. I look forward to whatever other thoughts you may have on it, there is plenty more to explore!