A classy business

A photo article on ‘things posh people like’ is currently doing the rounds on the social media networks. It cites such accoutrements as ‘upturned collars,’ ‘expensive pets’ and ‘blazers,’ and pokes fun at ‘insanely long surnames’ and the tendency of the rich to ‘make lists of other posh people, most of whom you’ve never heard of.’ In short, it’s funny. Or at least it is to people like me, who regard themselves as middle class and consider this self-classification a prerequisite for being permitted to relentlessly mock the upper classes, with whom we obviously share no common ground.

For most people, identifying with a social class provides a meaningful form of identity. The ‘upper classes’ are easier to mock because they’re perceived as ‘having it all’ – something the lower and middle classes doubtless envy (even if they’re quite certain they wouldn’t behave in the same way should they themselves come into a substantial sum of money).

The stereotypical posh kids who are depicted on programmes like Made in Chelsea do little to make being ‘upper class’ look classy, parading around in sports cars and having friends over for champagne tea served by the maid before indulging in a spot of croquet and a polo tournament. They portray a life of undeserved over-privilege, which is both offensive and alienating to Joe Bloggs on the street, who’s struggling to put food on the table at the end of each long day.

But whilst ‘posh’ is easy to mock, isn’t it a kind of inverse snobbery that operates when the ‘lower classes’ club together to mock the way the upper classes look and act? Perhaps, but it’s human nature to seek out those most similar to ourselves and form a bond as a way of reaffirming our place in society. There’s strength in numbers, as the saying goes.

But whether we’re rich or poor, posh or common as muck, we mustn’t forget that we are all human beings – our outward circumstances may be different but inside we’re all the same, with the same insecurities and fears. So what if some of us like wearing tweed and others double denim? The chances are deep down we’ve got more in common than we realise – or perhaps that we’re prepared to accept.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to meet a man about a peafowl….

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The paranoid extrovert

Human personality theories tend to divide people into two categories; extrovert and introvert. Whereas once it was accepted that for an individual to rank highly on one scale they must automatically rank lower on the other, later theories such as those of Carl Jung claimed that it was quite possible for an individual to exhibit characteristics of both, though one would be more dominant than the other.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, extroversion is “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.” Introversion, therefore, is “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” It follows, therefore, that extroverts are generally more talkative, outgoing and gregarious, and their introvert counterparts quieter, more withdrawn and less at ease in social situations.

What category, then, would the world’s writers and artists predominantly fall into? Is the spectrum as wide for this sub-category of the human race, or do the lines blur into one another a little more, like watercolour paint bleeding onto canvas? I only ask because I am (or at least I like to think I am) one of these strange creatures, and because whilst I would put myself firmly in the extrovert camp if asked the question, on further thought I wonder to what extent this is really true. Or rather, whether it’s possible to be an extrovert on the surface, but an introvert deep down inside, where insecurities breed like cancer and one thought spirals into a tornado of many.

Sometimes, for example, I’ll be mid-conversation with someone and my brain will put the brakes on and whisper like a bully in the school playground, “They aren’t remotely interested in what you’re saying, you know, it’s only through politeness that they’re pretending to be.” Even if the person with whom I’m conversing does seem genuinely interested in what I have to say, the voice in my head eats away at my confidence, making every word seem – to me at least – more laboured, less relevant, or just plain wrong. It’s a type of paralysis – thought paralysis, if you will – that makes me want to stop talking and run away and hide. And it’s really rather odd, because if you asked any one of the people closest to me they’d laugh and say that isn’t me at all.

Perhaps it’s wrong to link introversion with insecurity and a general lack of confidence. Many introverts may be supremely confident in themselves and their abilities but simply have no interest in hogging the limelight in social situations. It’s quite possible that makes them more rather than less confident, because they don’t feel the need to seek praise and affirmation in the way the extroverts do.

The part of the definition of being an extrovert that both grates on me and resonates with me is the “obtaining gratification from what is outside the self” part. Why do we extroverts feel the need to seek approval and reassurance to validate our place in the world? Why can’t we accept what is and be happy with our achievements irrespective of praise? All questions that my inner introvert is just dying to answer…

Not sure this picture – taken on my Raleigh expedition in 2011 during filming of a ‘music video’ – quite illustrates my point about being an introvert….