Monday, September 3, 2012

What's Your Status?


As mentioned, I dipped my toe in the rapids of Social Media and now am clinging onto a branch drenched in the roaring waters! The force of this current is simply extraordinary! And maybe that image is too negative— it has also been a bit of letting go holding on to the sides of the big rubber raft and shouting “Wheeee!!” Still no big surprises from the forgotten corners of my life—yet— but just fascinating to see who knows who and how many are happy to accept me as a friend— or vice-versa— just because I know someone else that they know and like.

And the instant feedback is impressive. Many people have told me that some feature of my blog is not working well and they’ve wanted to comment, but been blocked. But in general the blog comments are a trickle and as I’ve said often, that’s fine— too much would be too much. But all you have to do is write a simple couple of sentences on Facebook and 12 people let you know they like your “status.”

And that’s today’s theme. Who decided to use that word to describe your news of the moment? At the risk of re-opening my surgical cut, I hefted out the Oxford English Dictionary of Etymology (yes, I know there’s an online version— my books were just looking lonely) and looked up this word.

As suspected, it has to do with your height, your standing, where you are in the pecking order of a particular field, with what responsibilities and accomplishments and level of esteem held from others. Most definitions also include your legal standing. One talked about whether you were seated “above the salt” or “below the salt” at a dinner party.

In most of human history, from the village chief to the state official to the religious priest to the hot guy on the dance floor to the elder at a council, status is the first thing we want to know and most of it is (except for the hot dancer) is predetermined by birth, class, rank, wealth and such. And this goes far beyond elite debutante balls in upper crust New York society or the English hierarchy. It’s as true in the undiscovered Stone Age tribe as it is in the endless layers of Western civilization. The Javanese language has three different levels, with different root bases, that all must learn and apply specifically according to who you’re conversing with. A younger person talking to an older must use High Javanese and the elder would use low Javanese. Not too different from the tu and Usted of Spanish or Du or Sie of German.

American culture, with its shift on emphasis from “where you came from” to  “where you’re going” was the first move to status as something you earned rather than inherited. And then the hippies of my generation, with our open disdain of all status-related etiquette, dealt it another blow. (Though even there, I remember some people thinking that the guys with the longest hair were the coolest, until they were reminded, “It’s not what on your head, it’s what’s in it.”)

So I was fascinated that someone on Facebook decided that your news is called your “status.” In the great movement towards equal valuation, your status is what’s going on for you at the moment (perhaps as in your “status quo”), your state of being. When someone compliments you on your status, it’s not what you’re wearing or what you just deposited in the bank, but what interesting thing you did or thought.

And here we enter the typical music class I teach to children or adults. Within one minute, it becomes clear that your status is determined by one thing only—how well you play. Not how technically well or whether you measure up on some predetermined imaginative yardstick, but how much you’re willing to let go of any previously conferred status, earned or inherited, and simply be wholly in the moment with your partner.

But let’s face it, we remain creatures of status and will always be interested in measuring, comparing, hanging out with those near the top, scrambling to get there ourselves. No amount of social engineering is going to change that. What we need is the conversation between one form of status and another. We love to rub shoulders with the stars, we love the feeling when people notice us, defer to us, look up to us and it’s a fine game. But it is a game after all and at the end of the day, the most meaningful status is our status quo— who we are here, now, alive and alert to the moment, engaged and loving to whoever stands near us. Including the hundreds of distant Facebook users reading about our day.

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of words of Eden Ahbez sung just yesterday by a friend of mine: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."

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