Social Status Seeking

Dale Carnegie taught the world how to Win Friends And Influence People and in Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America, Steven Woods tells the story of why Carnegie wanted so much to be seen as successful and how his lessons in satisfying the needs of other people created an empire.

Carnegie’s basic lesson about success is simple: you have to want influence so much that you will endlessly work for it, so much that you will push through failure after failure to get it,  so much that you will put other peoples needs, desires and feelings before your own to get what you want.   They will see you as their friend if you never tell them that they are wrong, never are rude to them, never seem like you are not valuing them more than anything else.

Performance is the key for Carnegie, and like any preacher, he knows that you have to become your performance, becoming the friendliest and most influential person you can possibly be at all times.   Unless your performance works with the kind of deep conviction that drips authenticity, well, it’s just not going to get you what you want and you are going to have to keep polishing it, as he polished his performance everyday.

Carnegie grew up poor and that was embarrassing to him.  When he got to teachers college, he saw a way up through rhetoric, a way he knew suited his skills, a way that he could succeed at if he only went at it with hammer and tongs.

Wanting to be liked by the crowd, wanting to be popular is what most people grow up wanting.   Success means having friends who listened to you, who you could influence to do what you wanted.   That is dream power, soft power, power that puts you at the head of the crowd rather than separating you from it.

Carnegie understood that drive and offered tools you could use to make that happen.  He was so nice, so clean, so likeable that people wanted what he had, and if they didn’t have his drive, well, at least they could have his manual.

“Unless you like failure, you need to embrace the selective truth.”
— Jack Peltz, “Where The Road Hits The Rubber” (Roadies S1E9)

Being who others want to like, even if that means having a bag full of faces that you put on to suit the person you want to influence, well, there is a cost to that kind of behaviour.   It’s very hard to be committed to ideals and to truth when you have to have situational behaviour and ethics.

I love great corporate structures, places where people come together to share their skills and energy to make great things or to give great service.   I long to be a part of that team which revels in diversity, pulling together for greater goals.

I hate cheap corporate structures, though, those filled with fear and politics, where social pressure is a club to enforce compliance with some kind of imposed norms which treat people like interchangeable parts.

Carnegie was teaching people to be the kind of worker who put the sales figures ahead of almost anything, the one who would do whatever it takes to exceed expectations and rise in the corporate structure.   Because success is the ultimate virtue, the ends justify the means, and all that lovely groupthink.

Social status seeking is, of course, the most powerful force used to tame humans, to get them to go along, taking on the beliefs, choices & identity of the group.    Who doesn’t want to be embraced as a member of the gang?

How much, though, is it going to cost to be part of the in crowd?   How much of yourself do you have to give up?

For most people, their identity is as part of a group.   They are a member of a family, people from a neighbourhood, students at a school, one of a clique, part of a group with shared values.

Identity as an individual comes along later as they see the need to break away, try shifting groups until they find the need to stand alone, understanding their own heart and claiming their own presence.

That wasn’t the way it worked for me.   My aspergers parents didn’t know how to make a group, a safe space.   Instead, it was all about them, either in an narcissistic acting out way or in a sweet crackpot way.

I understand why people want to wrap themselves in group identity, in the tame warmth of fitting in, but only in an abstract, conceptual way.   It is easy to watch people who seek social status and know what they want and why, but it is much less easy for me to understand why that surrender of self to group norms and mores ever feels good and safe.

Carnegie’s basic message about success was simple: know your audience.

My message is much more the other side: know yourself.

As much as people love a binary, a duality, our messages aren’t all that different.

Carnegie preached that you couldn’t just follow a template, because unless your message appeared sincere, it wouldn’t work.

I talk about the importance of service, of being gracious and appropriate in a way that not only respects but that also serves the people with whom you are in relationship.

Wild and tame, the primary duality.

It’s just the tame bit that bloody well escapes me.