Attitude: Symbols of identity

Published in The Review (Dawn) on October 10, 2010

Original Link

By Ayesha Hoda

Money, they say, doesn’t buy happiness. And yet most people seem to run after it. The pursuit of wealth, rising levels of consumerism and focus on economic gains from marriages are issues that have been debated and researched to death. It is interesting to explore why people are attracted to wealth, the status symbols, and if it actually makes a difference to who they are.

In one of the famous classics, Pride and Prejudice, the country people are impressed by Mr Darcy — a newcomer in Hertfordshire — because of his large fortune but once they discover how proud he is, they start ignoring him. On the other hand, his friend Mr Bingley, with a comparatively smaller fortune, is well-liked due to his humbleness.

However, things seem to have changed a great deal from 19th century England. Apparently, the adjectives ‘snob’ and ‘show-off’ have lost their negative connotations. The more you can boast convincingly, the greater a person you are, many believe.

Many people not only want to possess something that elevates their social position but also like to be associated with those who have more, irrespective of their personality traits. This phenomenon is ever-increasing and more apparent when one enters professional life (the real world, as they say).

It’s not difficult to notice people trying hard to place you based on the car you ride, the locality you live in, and the people you know. You can notice the change in their expressions and opinion of you when you mention that you have attended two top private universities in the country — supposedly the ‘second home of the elite’. Some are impressed, others seem to resent it. Several others just take it casually.

Maheen, a designer, says, “When I landed up in a good job, many of my class fellows who had never called or even talked to me were very friendly all of a sudden.”

Hassan, 26, who works for a multinational IT firm, agrees, “When I tell people where I studied and where I work, they are really impressed. This may come under professional networking but in one way or another, it influences my social life as well.”

The question one would like to ask is: what do people seek to gain where professional networking is not the objective?

A colleague points out that plans of extracting future favours or advantages may be one of the reasons why people like to please their affluent relatives and other acquaintances. And it’s a myth that only the less affluent are gold-diggers or ones seeking to cash in on their connections.

However, associating with the wealthy and moving in important social circles is not only the means to an end but sometimes the end itself — the objective. Your best friends are no longer people of varying income levels, who you can be comfortable with, confide in, laugh and cry with, without being judged — in short, be yourself. They are ones who can entertain at posh restaurants, buy designer stuff and gossip about those who can’t afford to do so. Sociologist Anthony Giddens’ theory of pure relationships — love or close friendship that exists when the connection with the other person is valued for its own sake — can then easily go out of the window.

But it doesn’t end there. People are not always in awe of what you have. Often it’s greed vs envy. A conflict occurs in a superficial relationship. More often than not a financial or status imbalance leads to competitiveness, as Hassan admits, “When I meet someone who tries to consciously mention his material possessions, I ‘consciously’ use it as a counter tool.”

All this leads one to the question: who is this person without his social standing — minus his gold credit card, a brand new cell phone, club membership, foreign degree and a monthly income in six figures.

Status symbols can greatly differ from country to country, and even at times, from one city to another. Their attractiveness may last for quite some time, but eventually meets its end. One also wonders whether these symbols can really help one connect with other people and shape one’s identity.

Infatuation with higher social position can become an obsession. People can get caught up in myriad complexes, with less time for personal development; pursuing affluence and being pursued because of it, having friends with money, but not many real friends.

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6 thoughts on “Attitude: Symbols of identity

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