The Status Reaction

Based on the reaction to last week’s email, status plays have been a prickly point for many.

Have you ever been at a 4-way traffic stop, out in the country where there are no stoplights, just 4-way stop signs?

Have you ever had the car to your left come to a stop at the same time as you? And even though you had the right-of-way, the other car went through the intersection first?

Maybe you’ve done what I’ve done, said to yourself that maybe the vehicles didn’t come to a stop at the same time, the other car must have stopped first because they certainly wouldn’t have gone ahead when it wasn’t their turn—that could lead to an accident!


What is more likely is that you both stopped at the same time. Even though your vehicle was on the right and had the right-of-way, they went first. They did that thanks to the different status levels displayed by your two vehicles.

Why am I so confident of this? Because of research. I read a study, only one study, but it was enough for me.

Researchers, via hidden cameras, observed cars at a 4-way stop. I think it was in Indiana. They noted that when two cars stopped at the same time, most often the car that went first was the car of higher status, irrespective of who had the right-of-way.

In addition, the study found that even when the lower-status car stopped before the higher-status car, the higher-status car often went first.

Based on experience, this made sense to me. I drive a 2011 Honda Crosstour, which no one would mistake for a higher-status luxury sedan. There have been times when I definitely stopped first so I started first, and the other driver glared at me. Once, the other driver started anyway and expected me to stop. I did not. (I knew he valued his car’s appearance more than I valued mine, so I had the advantage.)

The study also noted that the drivers most likely to go when it wasn’t their turn were those who drove BMWs (which I thought was interesting).

Now perhaps Mercedes Benz wrote the study to discredit BMW. I don’t know. All I know is those times I thought I stopped first but the other driver went first, I probably had stopped first.

Thanks to the man I married first, who I refer to as ‘the man in the purple suspenders,’ I understand the psychology of this behavior.

Let’s call him ‘the man’ for short.

It was a Saturday morning, and the man and I were running errands. We needed to hit a few of the big box stores and he was driving.

At Home Depot, we were walking across the parking lot when an SUV came in to park. As the SUV waited for us to cross, I felt the man slow his steps.

“You’re slowing down,” I said, my anxiety ticking up (We must get out of the way!)

“He has to wait.”

I slowed my pace to match my husband’s, avoiding any glance toward the driver of the SUV.

With the Home Depot mission accomplished, we headed to Target. As we pulled into an aisle to park, a pedestrian was crossing. The man stopped our car, then slowly rolled toward the pedestrian.

“What are you doing?”

“He needs to get out of the way.”

“What are you talking about? You just said the car needed to wait for the pedestrian, and now you’re saying the pedestrian needs to get out of the way of the car. Your behavior is completely inconsistent.”

The man kept his eyes on the pedestrian, who appeared to be slowing his steps. At least we weren’t inching up on him anymore.

“It’s totally consistent.” His voice was low. The power voice.

“No it’s not.”

“It’s consistent. They either need to wait for us or get out of our way. It’s about us. Consistent.”

This is where we leave the story because it’s where I left to begin an inaudible conversation with myself. “You picked him, Jule. You picked a man whose values are completely misaligned with yours.”

This is why some drivers of higher-status vehicles go when it isn’t their turn. They want to and they can. And because of their higher status, we often give them the benefit of the doubt.

They deserve the benefit of the doubt. We all do. But not everyone gets it.

Chewing the Cud of Good

Thankful for fresh citrus in the winter.



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