How to Cope with Snobbery, According to Alain de Botton

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On outward signs of distinction.

Ever wondered why career anxieties have the power to keep you up at night? Or why, when meeting new people, the first question asked is what you do for a living? Other than the obvious incentive of money, author and philosopher Alain de Botton believes that our status anxiety is also due to the psychological effect that “snobs” have on us.

Alain defines a snob as “anyone who takes a relatively small part of us and uses it to come to a rigid and unbudgeable conclusion about how much of their attention we deserve.” And, when you think about it, we’ve most likely all met status-obsessed folk before, the kind we don’t necessarily like, but try nevertheless to impress. And this is not an entirely new concept, with family lineage or royal connections the previous symbols one’s importance.

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The video below cites the example of a mother being the opposite of a snob, in that they do not care what you achieve, but are mostly concerned by who you are as a person, and love you despite your job title or bank balance. Alain also suggests that those who flaunt flashy and equally pricey items, may not be materialistic, but actually hunger for the esteem granted by onlookers. It isn’t the goods they want, instead they crave the love and attention that comes with possessing them.

“At the root of snobbery is a lack of imagination and confidence about how to decide who in the world is valuable. The snob isn’t wrong in their background sense that there are better and worse sort of people around. They are just brutally misguided and slavish in their beliefs in how the superior individuals can be identified.”

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Alain adds a final point, that the true answer to coping with snobbery is to acknowledge that our brains do distinguish between better and worse people, and that we can consciously make an effort to not focus on outward signs of distinction, such as a high-end handbag or a ritzy postcode. However, if we make it our duty to be kind and good to everyone we meet, and base their value on internal characteristics, we will be able to start favouring those things in ourselves as well.

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