Status Symbols

Oprah Winfrey’s “Big Give” has just finished playing on television. For those who never watched it or saw the promotions for it, Oprah had a number of contestants on the program giving to people in need each week. The person who gave the least or had the least effect was voted off by a high-profile panel of “expert givers”.

What struck me about this was the apparent “backwardness” of the show. Instead of the contestants trying to get the most for themselves they were trying to give the most away.

Why I say this is backward is because in life the status symbols people crave are possessions. Very few would brag about the amount of money they gave to charities last year, though the same people would happily take you to their garage to see their new car or take you on a tour of their home pointing out the various upgrades, or show you the photos from their recent holiday.

Why don’t people proclaim how much they give away?

It’s odd that it’s actually seen as rude to brag about the amount of money one donates, yet it’s not rude to casually discuss the money one spends on oneself.

In an age of abundance and in many cases gluttony, there are still massive portions of the world that struggle daily to even feed themselves.

So it is interesting then that now as our society becomes more conscious of mother earth, of waste and of understanding others, that the status symbols that still thrive are the self-centered, wastefully extravagant kind. We’re all guilty, myself included. In this day and age it’s nearly impossible not to get caught up, especially in a city as wealthy as Calgary is.

“And what’s wrong with that anyway?” You may be asking.

I guess nothing. Everyone makes their own choices as to how they want to allocate their resources, financial or otherwise. People tend to allocate where they see themselves getting the most bang for the buck.

What bang are people looking for when they buy status symbols? Prestige perhaps. Uniqueness. Popularity… even fame. And what will that buy them? Happiness would be the hope, but happiness is rarely if ever the result. True happiness comes from knowing yourself, from self-satisfaction, from making a difference, from contribution to others. Essentially happiness comes from giving.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mohandas Gandhi.

The problem with all these things that we acquire is they steal time away from us. Last week my automatic garage door stopped working. I know it’s not a status symbol, but it is a sign of abundance. So now I’ll have to get it fixed, so that I can access my garage. If I didn’t have an automatic garage door I wouldn’t be losing any time this week getting it fixed! As a society we run so many errands and make shopping trips to purchase status symbols, or upgrading the ones we bought last year that no longer cut the mustard.

If we replaced that time in acquisition mode with time in giving mode we would likely find ourselves more at peace with the world. In addition to the benefit that would be seen by our friends and family, who would spend more quality time with us, we would also have a fair bit of spare change left over. We could give it away to someone who needs it more than we need to buy yet another flat screen plasma television!

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