What is status? And who gives it to us?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately – about the importance of status in my own life. First, let’s define status. To me, it means where we place in the hierarchy of society, with the wealthy squarely located at the top of the ladder and the poverty-stricken at the bottom. I have, in my mind, made a habit of equating wealth and status but I have come to realize that this might not always be so. Surely there are those in our world who have earned society’s respect and yet do not carry the riches such a position would imply? One of my personal heros, Buckminster Fuller, operated virtually at a zero sum game for much of his life – as per his own admission. And Mother Theresa, for example, gave her life to serving others yet had little possessions of her own.
It strikes me that what I crave, then, is not so much financial wealth but societal respect. I want a seat at the communal table and I want my voice to be heeded and heard. This, to me, is no small revelation. Up to now, I had operated under the false assumption that if I just stick to my job long enough, and make enough money, somehow, at some point, suddenly the world will care more about me. But until then I am doomed to the shadows.
It’s true that money does facilitate that journey up the social ladder. To be able to buy your way through life conveys power. And power is, after all, why we seek out status. Power means having the influence to shape the future rather than standing by the sidelines. But where I have faltered is to believe that only wealth can bestow me with this power. And that, simply put, is not true. Not having money is indeed an impediment to power because one spends so much of one’s energy worrying about where the next meal will come from, and how to keep a roof over one’s head. But once this abject poverty is resolved, the paths towards wealth and power may very well diverge.
Maybe power isn’t the word I’m looking for. It conjures images of kings and queens and arrogant, corrupt politicians. It implies subjugation and separates the world into two camps: those who have it, and those who don’t. What I seek is not power, then, but influence. Influence does not mean taking power away from anyone else. Instead it seeks to strengthen those around us. And that is what I want to do: I want my voice to be heard but more than that, I want to create a world, a space, where everyone’s voice has the potential to be heard in a constructive manner.
The question for me becomes how to foster influence – not for my own gain but for the sake of contributing to the success of the greater society. And by success I mean health, happiness and peace. We deserve to live in a world where these qualities are foremost.
Maybe it’s time to re-imagine status. Rather than portraying it as a ladder, one that leads from bottom (poverty) to top (wealth), what if it is more like a cloak we choose to throw over our shoulders, a kind of uniform that represents our willingness to serve a higher calling. For some, money can buy them the privilege of wearing it. But for others, we inherit it from our fathers, mothers, brothers, mentors. And once we have the cloak, only we get to decide when to take it off, when to pass it on, and how to use it.
It’s time for me to take up my status cloak. What will you do with yours?