Person A: [enters room] What are you reading?

Person B: War and Peace

This straightforward, factual response implies a small status boost for Person B, since reading such a famously long and difficult book implies studiousness, persistence, and cultural sophistication.

But look what happens when A responds:

A: Oh, that is my favourite book

A has cut B down to size, implying that not only has he also read this impressive book, he has done it multiple times and enjoyed it.

But now imagine an alternative scenario.

Suppose A instead answers:

A: Oh, that’s my favourite book…but I only look at the pictures.

It initially looked like a status boost, but then turned into a self-effacing comment. By lowering his own status [by admitting that he only looks at the pictures] according to the Seesaw Principle, A raises B’s status by implicitly recognising B’s greater achievement.

There are many examples of the Seesaw Principle:

When a traffic cop pulls you over, the status game is on, who has power over whom?

When you say, “I went to university” to your friend who didn’t go to university, or when another friends responds, “Well, I went to the popular university, that one that everyone knows” the Seesaw Principle is in motion.

When you remind people of your title, or position, the Seesaw Principle is in full steam.

Humans beings like playing status games. In the airplane, at sporting events, at churches, at conferences, at social gatherings, on social media. People are always looking for the opportunity to elevate themselves over others.

Once you start looking out for status levers, you see them everywhere. They pervade every aspect of daily life and work and pop culture.

People do things motivated by status games.

It is not a question of whether or not you want to play them, it is whether you will play them consciously or subconsciously.

You can play status games of power, position, superior knowledge or the only chosen belief, the game that sees you wanting to be above, more important, more smarter and higher than everyone around you.


You can play status games of being more generous, more caring and giving of space and opportunities to others.

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek says:


“We are drawn to leaders and organisations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”


Ultimately the idea is to get along, to co-exist, not compete.

We all want to belong. We want to belong to people, groups, or organisations that makes us feel safe, not make us feel small.

Choose to play better games, games that serves others better, than that elevates few over others.

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