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.
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.