What’s Your Status?

The game of life, if you choose to play, is one of status.
For most of us, our daily decisions aren’t life or death.
We make very few decisions that will influence or impact our immediate survival in the truest sense of the word.
Instead, our decisions are largely focused on optimizing and improving our perceived status in the world.
Ultimately, the exchange of status roles drives human behavior.

There are three core frameworks that most decisions or actions are driven by:
1. A desire to change one’s status
2. A desire to maintain one’s status
3. A desire to reinforce one’s status

Changing One’s Status
A desire to change one’s status can be seen in some of our most basic everyday decisions:
Driving a BMW
Wearing a ring from Tiffany’s
Carrying a Louis Vuitton bag
Wearing Lululemon clothing
Buying vs. Renting a home

Maintaining One’s Status
The best example of how our desire to maintain our status manifests is social media. Social media is purely an exercise in seeking status confirmation.
We go there to check-in and scroll through the lives of our “friends”. As we scroll, we are quickly, often subconsciously, making mental comparisons between what we see on our screens and our personal lives.
When we feel like our “friends” are having more fun or doing cooler things – we respond by posting our own message or image that shows that we too live an awesome, fun, and exciting life.
When they are doing something that we approve of or is something that “people like us” do – we like it.
And the cycle continues.
The positive feedback loop is strong.

Reinforcing Status
Status is so powerful because people naturally adopt the roles that they are given by society.
An excellent example of this is the famous Standford Prison Experiment, in which Dr. Zimbardo set out to investigate how readily people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner in a role-playing exercise that simulated prison life. To study the roles people play in prison situations, Zimbardo converted a basement of the Stanford University psychology building into a mock prison. He advertised asking for volunteers to participate in a study of the psychological effects of prison life, more than 70 applicants answered the ad. Selected participants were randomly assigned to either the role of prisoner or guard in a simulated prison environment. Prisoners were treated like every other criminal, being arrested at their own homes, without warning, and taken to the local police station. All guards were dressed in identical uniforms and they carried a whistle around their neck and a billy club borrowed from the police.Within a very short time, both guards and prisoners were settled into their new roles, with the guards adopting theirs quickly and easily. Within hours of beginning the experiment some guards began to harass prisoners. At 2:30 A.M. prisoners were awakened from sleep by blasting whistles for the first of many “counts. The prisoners soon adopted prisoner-like behavior too. They talked about prison issues a great deal of the time. They ‘told tales’ on each other to the guards. They started taking the prison rules very seriously, as though they were there for the prisoners’ benefit and infringement would spell disaster for all of them. As the prisoners became more dependent, the guards became more derisive towards them. They held the prisoners in contempt and let the prisoners know it. As the guards’ contempt for them grew, the prisoners became more submissive. As the prisoners became more submissive, the guards became more aggressive and assertive. They demanded ever greater obedience from the prisoners. The prisoners were dependent on the guards for everything so they tried to find ways to please the guards, such as telling tales of fellow prisoners.

The “prisoners” even started referring to themselves by the inmate number they were given at the start of the experiment. Ultimately, Zimbardos experiment concluded that people will readily conform to the social roles they are expected to play.

Another simpler, everyday example:

Consider the typical American wedding.
In New York, the average wedding costs $80,000. This is a huge chunk of discretionary income. Money spent on venues, on flowers, on five, six or seven-piece bands—where did this come from?
The obeisance of the bridesmaids in their matching outfits…
None of this is something people go out and do when they want to have a good time.
It’s done because people like us do things like this.
And it’s about a momentary affirmation of status — status within a very small circle of friends and family.

Or consider, why do people vote against their best interest?
They have been so ingrained in taking direction and playing the status role that they have been given that they are willing to accept what authority tells them to do.

Why do we go through the theatrics of TSA at the airport?
Not really, it’s much more of an exercise of status.
An exercise that allows the TSA worker to reinforce the status that has been granted to them by the government.
They play the role well.

How are coaches of sports teams able to demand and receive the respect that they do?

Status is powerful.

A few questions:

Who / what forces in society dictate what you do?
Dictate where you eat, shop, the neighborhood you live in, the car you drive, where and how you invest your money, the school that you choose to send your kids to, the books you read, the shows you what on TV?
What roles are you playing?
What status are you optimizing for?
Who are you putting down in the process of elevating yourself?
What are you ignoring due to your narrow focus?
What are you doing to maintain your status in the community?

We actively do things to each other (and to ourselves) to hinder social mobility, and we’ve been doing it for generations.
People like where they are in the hierarchy – people may argue about it and may wrestle with it, but ultimately people accept where they are in the hierarchy and they adapt those roles.

Status roles drive human behavior.

Once you see this, you may not be able to unsee it.

Be a Weed

Weeds grow strong.
Weeds grow wherever they please.
Weeds are hard to kill.
You pull them out, and they grow back – time and time again.
Weeds come in all shapes and sizes.
Weeds can prosper in nearly any environment.

Weeds are independent thinkers:

Jeff Bezos
Warren Buffet
Karl Benz
Marting Luther King, Jr.
Johannes Gutenberg
Seth Godin
Noam Chomsky
Dr. Phil Valentine
Yuval Noah Harari
Alan Watts
Joseph Campbell
Ray Dalio
Alain de Botton
Lewis Hyde

To name a few.

What do these individuals have in common?
Each of them are weeds in societies garden of ignorance.
They refuse to let popular opinion govern their decisions.
They consider the facts, as they are currently known, and make a decision. When the facts change, they are willing to change their point of view to meet the current dimensions of reality.

Our culture needs more weeds.
Weeds are natures support corps and are vital to a healthy universe.
They are a reaction to the myriad of deficiencies in our culture.

Most importantly, weeds perform a vital job in our ecosystem: they quickly establish, protect, and restore the humanity that has been left exposed by natural and human-caused disturbances.

Be a Weed.

The Illusion of “OR”

Life is not a conflict between opposite but a polarity.

Things may be poked apart but they all go together.

However, that’s now how most of our culture views the world. Instead of “and”, it’s “or”

We live in a Culture of Duality.

We believe that people are good or evil

Rich or poor

Have hate or compassion

Black or white

Alive or dead

Yet, this is an illusion.

All things go together – the world is in fact one.

You can’t have a north pole without a south pole.

There isn’t good in this world without evil.

No one would be considered rich without society labeling the status of others as poor.

There is no way to be educated without the uneducated.

No such thing as hate without compassion.

There are no people that we consider black without those that we deem white.

No such thing as living, without the occurrence of death.

No trap without someone to be caught.

No compulsion unless there is also freedom of choice.

And of course, without others, there is no self.

Recognizing this illusion gives you the opportunity to change your posture.

The opportunity to realize that differentiation is not separation.

Living under this illusion is like viewing the world through the narrow gap in a fence, for when we attend to something, or take one side of the dualistic view, we ignore everything else – it is viewing the world with narrowed perception.

The head and the feet are different, but not separate, and though we are not connected to the universe by exactly the same physical relation as branch to tree or feet to head, he is nonetheless connected.- Alan Watts

Learning to See

We only perceive the things that we are programmed to perceive.

We recognize only the things for which we have mental maps and categories.

As such, mental maps and categories govern our perception.

Therefore, understanding the mental maps and categories that govern our behavior, the behavior of our communities, and those that lead us is paramount to seeing the world as it is

A simple example to explain what I mean:

Pro wrestling is fake.

Somewhere around the age of 8 or 10 years old, someone told us that pro wrestling was fake.
Each of our reactions likely differed – disbelief, confusion, anger or sadness.
However, because we trusted the person that delivered the news, we decided to put in the effort to see for ourselves.
Suddenly, we see that every move and every interaction is scripted.
We see that the elbow drops don’t make contact.
We see the fake blood.

The thing is, once you see that it’s fake, that it’s scripted, that it’s all invented – you understand how it works and you think about it differently.
From that moment on you can no longer unsee what you had previously failed to see.
Your perception is forever altered.

A few questions to consider:

What is school really for (here’s a hint)?
What really drives the economy?
What does television distract us from? How to broadcasters make money? (here’s a thought)

What does that tell us about their incentives?To educate? To entertain?
Why do we go to war?
Why is the national defense budget larger than and grows at a faster and more consistent rate than the budget for education (by a rate of 6 to 1, if you’re curious)?

The biggest barrier to learning how to see is fear.
It’s scary to see the world as it is.
It makes us confront the assumptions that we may have inaccurately grown accustomed to.
It forces us to ask why, the answer to which is usually not readily available or emotionally comforting.
Most importantly, it forces us to change our behavior and to act as if.
To act as if we have the power to change how other people see the world.
To act as if we don’t have to do things merely because “that’s how they have always been done.”
To act as if we care.

As we learn to see, our posture is forever changed.

As I see it, there are only two options:

1. Embrace the tension
2. Keep believing that pro wrestling is real

The choice is yours.

Being First Isn’t Important

Being first is not the objective.

Nor has it been for some time now.

Sure, back when we were hunter-gathers and scarcity ruled the world being first could be the difference between whether you and your family ate that day.  Being first was often a life or death outcome.

In the world of scarcity being first matters.

However, today being first is largely irrelevant.

Friendster, Myspace, Classmates.com, and Sixdegrees.com were the first social networking sites. Each had millions of users. Then came Facebook.

Yahoo, Excite, Magellan,  and Infoseek were the first information portals that focused on search. Then came Google.

In the 90’s china.com was the future of e-commerce and the internet in China. It was one of the first companies to IPO, tripling on its first day of trading. Then came Alibaba.

In a rush to get a return on our investment, being first for the sake of being first has become a cornerstone of what it means to be part of our culture.

However, our culture has shifted and the conditions in which we live are vastly different from our days as hunter-gathers.

Instead, we live in a world of abundance.

No longer is there a premium on being first.

Today, the winner is the company or individual that makes a connection.

The person who gains our trust.

The company that show’s empathy for the nuance of being human.

The person that is patient.

The company that is generous.

None of which has to do with speed or being first.

Today, the premium is placed on engaging with others, over and over again.

The people and the companies that are generous and care are the winners.

Not the one’s that are first.

The pioneers take the arrows. The settlers take the land.