A while back a friend of mine lent me a copy of Status Anxiety by philosopher Alain de Botton. I caught parts of the companion tv series when it was shown here on the ABC, and I had always been interested in reading the book. He has some very interesting things to say about the nature of snobbishness, envy and why we compare ourselves to some and not to others. It's quite thought provoking, and got me to thinking about my own attitudes towards things and whether I ever suffer from status anxiety.
I'm not an envious person in general, and certainly not about material things. Frankly I'm not that concerned about material status symbols, and the more I study Buddhism and work on my own attachments I get less and less so each year. I find the idea that status anxiety arises when we see people who we could be, because they are from a similar background or similar circumstances, rather than people who are too far removed from ourselves, like celebrities or the intensely rich, quite interesting.
Around the time I turned 35 I had un petite crise about getting older and not having acheived lots of the things that my peers had. More to do with not having a long term relationship, not having travelled as much as I had hoped to, not owning my own place etc. Looking back some of this was because people around me, people I was friends with and had grown up with, had acheived these things. It quite surprised me because I always considered myself to have few expectations about how things 'should' be and rarely ever feel overt envy.
Last night I had the opportunity to go out with an old friend and a group of his friends, but didn't go. These friends of his are all buff 'Oxford St' party boys, and frankly I feel like I don't have a lot in common with them. I can laugh at their wild stories of doing lines of blow in the back of a ute in South Africa, but it's not something I can relate to. Worse, I find them intimidating and suspect that they consider me a misfit, with my short stature, lack of a gym built body and reluctance to get out of it and dance 'til dawn at ARQ.
That sounds a bit bitter and judgemental, but I think it's a fairly accurate analysis of the situation. Some of them are quite likeable, but I just don't feel part of the crowd and they do seem pretty focussed on how physically attractive everyone is. Some of it must be that their status as desireable party boys is something that I won't ever attain. Weirdly, it's not something that I particularly aspire to, but I guess the status anxiety part of it is that we often desire that which is out of our reach but is available to others.