Snub or Snob?

Recently, I was at a friend’s house when another old friend, David*, arrived with his partner Margaret.* I had already met David a couple of times, but I wasn’t acquainted with his lady. The four of us  enjoyed an animated conversation over dinner, ranging over a number of different topics. Alone with Margaret – who I knew had taught at a university and therefore had publications to her name – I innocently inquired what her field was, and what her speciality. She informed me very briefly, then continued telling me about her grandchild and the time they had just spent together.

A little later, however, David turned to our hostess and asked in a most accusatory tone, “How come you didn’t tell Cat about Margaret?” Nonplussed, my friend said that she had told me about her. “No, you didn’t,” he replied, ”she didn’t know that Margaret is a highly distinguished scholar and a world authority on her speciality.” 

Margaret nodded “Yes,” she said sourly, “I wonder what exactly you did tell her about me, since you didn’t mention the most important thing!”

My friend explained that as I didn’t yet know Margaret she had simply told me that she was David’s partner, and a university professor. She may indeed have mentioned Margaret’s field of study but I hadn’t registered that fact. This explanation only added fuel to the fire: Margaret felt that her status had been greatly reduced, if all I had been told about her was that she was an appendage to David. Alas, she most definitely felt snubbed. Feathers were very ruffled. I also tried to defuse the atmosphere by saying that in my opinion, what matters is not so much what a person does but rather who the person is. In addition, we are all well past retiring age so you can’t really assume that we are all still working– although  as it turned out, we are.

No, no, no! David and Margaret were both very adamant that what you do professionally defines who you are: your achievements and social standing are primordial, your identity is shaped by your work. There was no budging them on that, and Margaret’s wounded pride may sadly mark the end of a very long friendship between my friend and David, although I fervently hope not

However, the question raised has occupied my thoughts since this event. 

I agree that we probably choose our career path as a function of our tastes and talents as well as whatever opportunities come our way. Personally, I could never have had a career in medicine or engineering, for instance. But over the years, I’ve filled a multitude of roles both personally and professionally, and not all in the same field, interacting with people at many different levels of the social and academic scale, and making friends with people from all walks of life. It seems snobbish to me to put a higher value on a person because he or she has a title – be it academic or noble – than one who is equally faithful, fun and sincere but at the bottom of the class system. Prince or pauper, for me it’s character that counts. 

I put this same question to my readers, and would really be very interested to know where you stand on this issue.

Are our accomplishments more important than our character? 

Am I the person I am because of my professional success or failure? 

And does that set the criteria for my personal worth?

Do you value yourself for what you do or for what you are? 

And do you value your friends for what they do or for what they are? 

*Names changed to protect the innocent!

34 thoughts on “Snub or Snob?

  1. I completely agree with you – who we are and not what we are!! But for a lot of people, probably the more successful ones, what they are defines them and without that they are a little lost. I had a university friend who was/is a lawyer. When her first daughter was born she stayed at home, but went back to work more quickly than planned because she couldn’t deal with not being a lawyer anymore – that was who she was. I felt it was rather sad. I think I’m ‘me’ no matter what I have done, am doing or will do.

  2. My father had promoted to Dr. phil. at age 26. I had many interesting conversations with him. 🙂
    Growing up, it was assumed, that I would go to university one day, for originally I was a very good student. However my life took a different turn. I never went to any university. Still, throughout my life, I never felt inferior to university educated people. 🙂
    My husband left school at 15 to learn a trade. Throughout his life, he was never unemployed. But he ended up with about ten different jobs! He had lots of different interests and was well read in German and English. His general knowledge was superb, probably better than that of some university educated people. 🙂
    I think it is kind of important that people with a lot of specialized knowdege also aim at keeping up with some relevant general knowledge that would help them with some decision making.

    • Well, you are missing nothing in loosing the acquaintance of these people. You would never feel relaxed in their company again. Unfortunately it is a manifestation of profound insecurity and the lady is to be pitied and avoided! I hope the food was good at

      • Ha, ha, Cat, it is generous of you to say so. Maybe a bit of wisdom, that comes with having lived a long life? I am glad, that you say the food was excellent. Now, let me try to understand Margaret’s proplems a bit: Maybe in the past it had too often happened to her, that it was assumed that she was just an appendage to David, rather than a highly distinguished scholar and a world authority on her speciality. Is there perhaps a problem, in that women’s qualifications tend to be overlooked in a way that it would not happen to men?

      • You may be right, Uta – she certainly has low self-esteem, I think, and I know a little about her background that could account for it. Let’s take a generous view and not judge her too harshly.

  3. Hello, Cat..a most engaging topic of conversation…the social conflict between classes…I come form a long line of a building trade family…I too worked all my life as a carpenter / builder, and in that journey, have built houses for rich and poor…high status and lowly…and I can say with a degree of acuracy that in the process of planning and building, the personality and practical capabilities of the client are rudely exposed…and I doubt I am giving any secrets away to other “experienced of life” readers here when I say we all have deep-seated knowledge of the “value” of those people we come into contact with at this late age of life.

  4. Oh, Cat. How very disappointing that an evening planned with friends, new and old, should end that way. I have a friend, a very close friend, who continues to talk about her degree – she is now 87 and in a rest home. I wonder if she still thinks she is the same person. A rest home quickly brings folk to the same level, degree or not. My father left school at 15 to help support a large family, but he was the kindest, most generous and well read man I have known. Education in whichever form you choose (or is thrust upon you) should help to build the person you are, not define who you are.

    • Yes, for me the sad thing about it all is that a longstanding friendship may have come to a sudden and unpleasant end. Wounded pride and jealousy, I think.

  5. Because of my great age I have travelled widely and mixed with people the world over. I mix with many professional people but find that generally they don’t talk about their status in life and just wish to have down time with ordinary morsels such as myself. I have a great friend who ‘s company is much in demand since she has a deprecating sense of humour, I have another friend who will lend an ear to others’ problems and offers sound advice. 0ne friend cannot enter a chat without mentioning money and a person ‘s status, we are like chalk and cheese, to her I am the poor relation but she still seeks my company because few people can tolerate listening to her. We are all so different but I incline towards people with a good sense of humour and common sense.. Status is irrelevant, it is the warmth of people that draws me to them and I hope them to me and loyalty too.

  6. I hate(!) being asked about my profession. The people who do so always look donw their nose at it because they expect me to be a scholar (which I am not). People who don’t care about my qualification (but only about my character) don’t ask…

  7. Associate Vice Chancellor, Chief Humn Resources Officers with the University of rkansas for medical Sciences. That’s what I would tell people in social settings when what I did was more important than who I was. Unfortunately, once my highfalutin title was shared, who I really was had no place in the conversation.Labels and titles get in the way of seeing the person.It’s always good to see what sort of inner engineering has been going on; what degree of humanness a person has developed. That much more ineresting.

  8. I agree with the folks who feel she is insecure. It was a social dinner, not a job interview.
    That said, to many people one’s profession matters more than it should. I’m quizzed about my life all the time, in detail. American in Paris, okay, but an American in the countryside? This they have to look into. My inquisitors care more than I think they should that I had a profession. Often they get into it. What specialty? How did I choose it? How long did I work? I tell them, though I think it’s none of their business.
    Maybe Margaret lives in a world where such close questioning is expected, even in social settings. If she is Margaret Mead-level prominent, maybe she has learned to expect deference. Maybe that evening she was hurting from some particularly vicious academic body blow. You never know what sets people off.
    It sounds as though the friendship wasn’t lost, so at least there is that good news.

    • I now know a little more about both these people – and am more sympathetic, though I still value my friends for who they are rather than what they do. Yes, I think Margaret has a chip on her shoulder – and she also has a new book coming out this month, so was probably expecting us to to be asking her about it. Alas, we didn’t know!

  9. OMG. This incident is jaw-dropping! It might be a little more believable if this couple were in their 30s (if all of you at this soiree were in that age category) during which careers are being built and personal experiences have yet to mold a certain perspective on life. But these people were all post-retirement? I can’t imagine being so self-absorbed. The woman must have an intensely fragile ego.

    Obviously, as someone who spent her working life as a (literally) blue collar worker schlepping mail from door to door, I obviously don’t judge my acquaintances/friends by their professional accomplishments. Of course it’s always interesting to have conversations with folks about their work life, about what they learned, how their profession shaped or changed them. But that is just trimming on the cake.

    Most of the people I associate with loathe being characterized or typecast by their professions. Private get togethers are the place to explore each other’s humanity, not our wall of awards.

  10. Well said, Linda. I’ve googled her – and also now know a bit more about both of them. He is extremely proud of her achievements, which is why he was actually more upset than she was at the perceived snub, but has since apologised. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that they consider what they do to be more important than who they are.

  11. Wow! What an evening! And what an experience! If I had been there I think my mouth would have been hanging open – dumfounded!!!! David and Margaret’s reactions say quite a lot about their character – and not on a positive note, in my humble opinion. What snobs. A person’s profession can certainly be interesting but it does not define them as a person. If Margaret and David believe that is what defines a person I think their view is very narrow. And, for goodness sake, this was a social event – a dinner party – it wasn’t a venue to applaud their achievements. Such a strange evening. I’m glad I wasn’t there as it sounded dreadfully stressful. I wouldn’t worry too much about your host being estranged from David – who would want to invite him to anything ever again?
    All that said, isn’t it just like us humans to want to categorize and label everything and every person? What a good reminder to look more closely at people – to connect with their spirit and to remember we are all stardust – each of us golden.

    • Apart from that dumbfounding moment, it had been a very pleasant time talking about old times and catching up on family news but then … Well, bless them anyway!

  12. Interesting evening for you. And interesting to read the trail of comments. My tuppence worth – if titles, jobs, accomplishments, accolades are more important than the person there is something sadly wrong.Such a shield to hide behind. Maybe protecting a frightened, hurt, scared inner child unable to accept they are the important ones worthy of love.

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