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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gotta Have the Status, Baby

According to CBS News, the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton could cost the U.K. economy about $50 million. Isn't that a bargain? Everyone would love to go to the affair. I haven't received my invitation yet, and I fear my status will decline if I don't hear something very, very soon. Precious status!

Speaking of status symbols, have you heard of the "Million Dollar" cocktail with an edible gold leaf? At $29 a bottle, Goldschlager liqueur is not the highest priced status symbol, but why people want to drink 24k gold leaf flakes is beyond me. The manufacturer says, "Goldschlager is more than just an ordinary cinnamon schnapps. Goldschlager has real edible gold flakes floating in a crystal clear liqueur.You won't get rich off of the amount of gold inside that bottle. It's less than one-tenth of a gram. But shake the bottle and watch that real gold leaf sparkle and shine and you'll see why Goldschlager is the perfect choice for your holiday cocktails." Wow, imagine shaking that gold and then ingesting it. Now, there is a drink worthy of status.

Drinking gold is nothing new. There are indications that the practice dates back to ancient Egypt. Of course, a colorful history of gold and liquor comes out of the California gold fever of the 1850s when successful gold miners would sometimes sprinkle a few flakes of gold into their drinks, living, they imagined, like Incan kings.

If you must have precious metal in your drink, why now just buy the cheap booze and toss some spare change into the bottle? It is status that drives us to crave silly possessions that supposedly represent the gauge by which one's social or economic prestige is measured.
So if you carry a Gucci handbag or drive a Lexus, you may be seeking status. You may hope that these possessions excite envy in someone who is status-conscious, but the products themselves will not gain status for the one buying them. In fact, the whole idea of a status symbol is fairly juvenile.

When you were a child, did you cry because your parents couldn’t afford to buy you the “cool” shoes? You now understand that behavior was a clear indication of your low self-esteem. Really, the shoes, themselves, could not give you the needed self worth.

But now, as an adult, you are continually bombarded by advertisements that tell you that self-esteem does depend on buying expensive products. Advertising creates a false status – this famous person uses this product, therefore his or her status is transferred to it; a consumer of the product can then derive some status from the product, presumably by some osmosis. Advertising says "Yes, yes, please indulge to reap the benefits because you are important and nobody can tell you 'no.'" The important distinction to make here is that advertising is meant to create false needs to encourage sales. You know that, don't you?

Any and everything to enhance status is touted. Status phones, status cars, status clothes, status friends -- all of these things make people better, correct? Having too much of the best is never enough these days. So living in luxuriant settings is the goal, right? "He who ends up with the most toys wins the game of life" goes the cliche.

Consider the glut of luxury and the debt created by status seekers. It seems these excesses are becoming more endemic. The excesses are fueled by media that fixates on the hedonistic lifestyles of the rich and famous, as well as the pitiful state of the wannabes. No one wants to be a wannabe, so you feel committed to take the dive and shell out the bucks. After all, it's only plastic anyway.

Shouldn't the value of possessions be relative to what each family can afford? Instantaneous pleasure and status are not necessarily good goals to instill in the lives of loved ones. In the case of material possessions, maybe parents should explain to their children that the enjoyment of material goods comes only after hard work or prudent investment, or both. That way, materialism as a lifestyle would become more of a fulfilling goal to achieve and sustain, instead of being taken for granted as an inherent part of life.

And what about even caring for material possessions? Am I wrong, or do children get most of the things they want these days with very little effort? The Jordans (I assume they're still in favor.), the X-Boxes -- parents have bought into the idea that attaining these items is so important for the child's development whether the luxuries are affordable to the family or not. Buying goods on credit that you can't afford bypasses some important qualities of life. While they pursue selfish pleasures, image, and ego, families teach children a lack of integrity.

What does happen when a person is given everything without appropriate effort? And, what happens when someone sees a person getting everything with very little effort? Children with everything are not necessarily happy, growing individuals. Society still claims to resent laziness and unearned entitlement. Parents may be damaging the real status of their prized possessions, their own children, by buying their way to the top. Can you really buy your way into other people's hearts?

Madeline Levine, Ph.D., in her book The Price of Privilege (2006)  claims that the current state of affluent materialism has left many well-to-do children feeling empty, depressed and angry, as they act out either through wild behavior and substance abuse, or equally damaging self loathing and self abuse. And, meanwhile, in far less affluent homes, in spite of material possessions provided through great sacrifice, desperation grows as children see their parents working endlessly, or falling hopelessly into debt, while attempting to give their children those things the media and advertisers seem to suggest that every child deserves. These children also turn to wild behavior due to resentment, feelings of emptiness and depression, which show up behaviorally in substance abuse and other forms of self abuse, but also criminal behavior, which can seem to be a legitimate option for getting ahead in a world where so many others can get things so much easier than the underprivileged can.

Speaking of guidance versus control, Levine writes, "The more we pour ourselves, our talents, concerns and aspirations into our children, the less room they have to develop their own talents, concerns and aspirations. Autonomy, not dependency, is always the goal of good parenting. Mother birds know the value of nudging their fledglings out of the nest so that they learn how to soar on their own wings. Overinvolved parents are clipping their children's wings." (Madeline Levine, "What Price, Privilege?" The San Francisco Gate, June 26 2006)  The article

Here is what I propose in today's post. Daniel A. Bochner, Ph.D., writes about the basic building blocks necessary for making children grow into great adults. He believes a few essential components must be cultivated in children in order to fashion them into healthy, thriving, connected beings. ("From Materialism To Integrity: The Building Blocks of the Healthy Human Structure,", 2010) These things are categorized under the following headings in his article:

* Being Special
* Humility
* Hard Work
* Responsibility
* Gratitude 
* Growth

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