Snobbery and Your Mother: is Your Idea of Success Truly Your Own?


It’s a sin to judge any man by his post.” [St. Augustine]

A few years ago, I went to hear Alain de Botton talk about his then new book Religion for Atheists. The proposition interested me for two main reasons — being brought up through an inclusie education system that taught me the history of most known religions, and my view of social behavior as encouraged by online networks and tools.

Botton’s thesis is that we should look to religions for insights into how to:

– build a sense of community
– make our relationships last
– overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy
– escape the twenty-four hour media
– go travelling
– get more out of art, architecture and music
– and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs

In this talk, he expands on the reasons why. Imagine, as he says in the opening:

For me they normally happen, these career crises, often, actually, on a Sunday evening, just as the sun is starting to set, and the gap between my hopes for myself, and the reality of my life, start to diverge so painfully that I normally end up weeping into a pillow.

You know how it feels — I haven’t done quite enough this past week, I am not churning out products like those other amazing thought leaders on Twitter, I should have been able to run a 5k and balance my checkbook in my head, then learn to code and write ten posts for my blog: what is wrong with me?

My, oh my. This is what is wrong. Putting all that pressure on ourselves to close the gap between what we perceive as successful and where we think we are.

Some definitions of the problem:

A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are. That is snobbery.

The dominant kind of snobbery that exists nowadays is job snobbery. You encounter it within minutes at a party, when you get asked that famous iconic question of the early 21st century, What do you do? 

[…] the opposite of a snob is your mother. Not necessarily your mother, or indeed mine, but, as it were, the ideal mother, somebody who doesn’t care about your achievements.

[…] we live in a society which has simply pegged certain emotional rewards to the acquisition of material goods. It’s not the material goods we want. It’s the rewards we want.

This is where the busy trap comes in as well. Unless of course the person contacting you is higher on the society totem pole.

And that’s a new way of looking at luxury goods. The next time you see somebody driving a Ferrari don’t think, This is somebody who is greedy. Think, This is somebody who is incredibly vulnerable and in need of love.

Another reason why we feel so much pressure is that our expectations of what is possible are fairly high. Everywhere we turn, we hear that anyone can achieve their dreams — anything they want.

There is one really big problem with this, and that problem is envy. Envy, it’s a real taboo to mention envy, but if there is one dominant emotion in modern society, that is envy. And it’s linked to the spirit of equality.

[…] The closer two people are, in age, in background, in the process of identification, the more there is a danger of envy — which is incidentally why none of you should ever go to a school reunion — because there is no stronger reference point than people one was at school with. But the problem, generally, of modern society, is that it turns the whole world into a school.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? Yes, and that is to create our own idea of success. Starting with learning to think for ourselves.

A fast-paced talk that carries an important message.



Conversation Agent – Valeria Maltoni