…reflecting on our love for status and the titles we give ourselves
I anchored a friend’s book reading event a few years ago. People from diverse sectors such as the arts, business, politics, and entertainment attended the event. One of the book reviewers was a former newspaper editor. He had worked with one of the previous political administrations. I knew him quite well as did many of the guests.
He is a PhD holder but I forgot this and introduced him as “Mr. So and So” when it was his turn to review the book. Many of the guests shouted, “he has a PhD o”. I corrected myself whilst tendering an apology. He didn’t appear to mind and carried on with his review. I made sure I apologised again after the event and he was kind enough to make a joke out of it.
Acquiring, possessing, declaring, and acknowledging one’s position and titles is very important in our society. It is even more important that everyone knows your position and title. If you don’t have one, be sure to either get or manufacture one. It rarely makes any difference whether you have earned or bought the titles anyway.
Many of us learnt the importance of status and position right from childhood. One question many students in my secondary school often got asked by both students and teachers was “who is your father?” The enquirer intended to determine if you were a child of influence or a child of ordinary means. Your response determined to what degree you received favour or faced hell.
The passage from junior secondary to senior secondary class was significant. All the students in the junior class were expected to call you “senior”. Woe betides the junior who forgot this unstated rule. Punishment would be his or her lot. Becoming a Prefect was the ultimate label of respect. You immediately become elevated a step above your peers!
The emphasis on status may not have appeared as pronounced in the higher institution but it was still felt. Whilst some students studying “professional” courses such as Law, Accounting, Engineering, and Medicine considered themselves made for life as their courses were considered more prestigious, some others studying courses such as Geography, Philosophy, or History would wonder what the future held for them.
Reality sets in as one gets into the world of work and status becomes clearer. Differences in grade levels, salary, and position impact heavily on this. Outside of the workplace, people relate with others based on their perception of the other person’s position or ranking in society. The more important one appears to be, the more respect they receive.
This is the reason some parents ensure their children study “professional” courses. Forget about their children though, these parents are more focused on the prestige that comes with this. Mothers at family events would swoon as relatives call them “Mama Lawyer” while they speak glowingly about how well their child is doing in law school. Fathers, not to be outdone, would remind their friends that they are now “Daddy Doctor” as this guaranteed them some bragging rights even though their child had only completed the first year of university.
Many people expect to be publicly acknowledged by their titles. Remember this if you ever have to announce them at an event or write about them in the media. Also, make sure you confirm and state their preferred titles. Let’s consider a hypothetical big man, Chief Dr Senator Evangelist Boniface Ota. A titled man in his village who was awarded an honorary doctorate by a university in the Caribbean nobody has heard about. Never forget that he spent one term in the senate and he is only an Evangelist because the religious group he set up made him one. And if Chief Ota happens to be the Chairman of a company, remember to add that as well. Addressing him by all his available titles reminds everyone that he is a man of means and influence who has traversed various sectors of this life.
By the way, if anyone disrespects you, attempts to disrespect you, or forgets who you are, be sure to remind them. All you have to do is ask that rhetorical question, “do you know who I am?” If you say this with the right tone and mannerism, it acts as a reset button and the offender assumes your social status. Remember that the question does not demand an answer, it is only a tool deployed to command respect, whether earned or not.
This brings me to something I have noticed online. A not so new form of titling has emerged, the champions being Millennials and Gen Z’s. Take a look at many bios/ profiles on various social media platforms and you will see quite a few descriptions that would leave you wondering. Some of the ones that have stood out for me (and my funny take on their meanings) include:
- Veteran: you assume that you have spent enough time in your field to be distinguished. Does having ten years of experience doing the same thing over and over count?
- Thought Leader: you fancy yourself a philosophical representation of knowledge in your field. Ignore the fact that you have never shared an original well-researched thought in your life
- Life Coach: you are quick to offer some advice or inspiration which you haven’t followed. It’s more “do as I say” rather than “do as I do” for you
- Bestselling Author: you have written at least one book which sold the standard 1,000 copies that self-published writers set as their benchmark (just 1,000 copies?). We still aren’t sure who exactly bought or was forced to buy your book
- Set Man: you have been set in charge of a group of people to provide leadership, and you are always set to do your work, never forget this
- Sapiosexual and Demisexual: we can all agree that both words sound very sexy but what exactly do they mean and why must you announce your need for sex on your social media bio?
- Polyglot and Polymath: these two words show that you have a lot of something. Could they mean that you are gluttonous and you love different kinds of math? or does it mean that you speak many languages and you know many things?
- Multi-potentialite: you have many different interests and creative pursuits in life or you are probably unstable and unfocused?
Keeping up in our status consumed society is hard enough so I understand why some people feel a need to promote themselves. If how you present yourself will guarantee you access to the opportunities you seek then by all means, adopt or work towards whatever title you want. Just be true to yourself, this is the way I see things today.