I’m afraid I am a bit of a snob. My wife pointed out to me that I put on airs in the way I give my postal address. I live in England on the border of beautiful countryside and industrial conurbation. I snootily choose to use the shire county rather than the metropolitan county as my address. Although the former is correct for where I live, using the latter would be much more sensible. The nearest postal sorting office is in within the neighbouring town which is in the conurbation just over the county boundary. That is where all my post goes.
Mind you, when it comes to social pretence, I am not in the same league as say some characters in the novel Pride and Prejudice. I’m thinking of Rev.William Collins who admires the wealth and social position of his patron. This woman is the condescending and overbearing Lady Catherine de Bourgh. His snobbishness is identification with those who are his ‘social betters’.
Also comes to mind is Miss Caroline Bingley, a “fine women, with an air of decided fashion”. This social snob belittles the society living in the small town of Meryton near where the novel is mainly set.
So what’s so bad about being a snob? Where’s the harm in admiring one’s betters and looking down on one’s inferiors?
The snob values things of the world
The snob may want to feel self-important by identifying with those who the world regards as worthy of esteem. One example are those with the social status of wealth.
The property snob takes an interest in the social status of the area in which he or she lives. This concern is greater than with the size, attractiveness or other qualities of the house.
“The love of the world, … consists …in setting the heart on riches, and suffering one’s self to be withdrawn and led away by the world from spiritual love, which is love towards the neighbour.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
The snob wants to feel superior
However, the main problem, to my mind, with being any sort of snob, is identifying oneself with those seen as a cut above others in terms of one’s abilities and experiences. A condescending and disdainful manner shows this egotism. The fashion snob looks down on inferior tastes in clothes, home design, music or whatever. The film snob is likely to dismiss any films made in the English language by the main film studios. He or she will disdain most newspaper film review sections as being insufficiently ‘au fait’ with the ‘real issues’ of cinema. The intellectual snob looks down with a superior attitude on those with uneducated views and opinions.
Likewise, the spiritual snob looks down on those with teachers who know less.
“I have seen white-robed teachers actually turn up their noses at students who ask how to take their yoga practice into their finances, because they were tired of money stress.” (Sadie Nardini, spiritual writer)
Being a religious snob
I suppose it’s only natural that when we discover some wonderful thing, we then assume that others should believe it too. If only everybody would read the books I read, use the terminology I use, or adopt the practices I follow, then their lives would be so much better!
The religious snob thinks their particular faith is right and looks down on all other beliefs as mediocre. As if just one person could contain the wisdom of the universe! I would suggest that the snobbish mistake is to assume no other ways of thinking have anything valuable to offer. Can it really be true that only one’s own beliefs are worth listening to?
“We’re all unique, we all have different paths. And what works for one, may not work for another” (Trisha Savoia, spiritual writer)
If you are a person of strong conviction, it rarely works these days to tell people what to think and believe. Why not instead offer suggestions about what one has found good and true for their possible consideration.
The opposite of the snob
I would say it is possible to feel good about oneself without being a snob. In place of identifying with money, social status, power, or reputation, cannot one look to deeper values and higher principles to give a sense of direction and identity?
By feeling above others, I would suggest the snob is looking down on them through the prism of his or her own conceit. Cannot one instead accept people whatever their social background and abilities in their own right?
How to stop being a snob
I believe wanting self-importance doesn’t go with a humble attitude necessary for spirituality. How can you who are a finite being compare with the infinite Source of everything? How about learning from others about this higher reality that is different from your own understanding?
This change would mean giving up an attachment to what belongs to self and the resulting feeling of superiority.
And when we do this, I happen to believe that our higher consciousness becomes active. I have found it is the deeper self that experiences spontaneous illumination during periods of reflection, prayer or meditation. I would say that the experience of this deeper side is a sense of freedom, of expansion, of communication with others and with what is truly real.
It’s like a mystical experience when the person feels at one with all of nature. Is this not when we can feel good about what is present deep within our human soul? The Divine reality that is beyond oneself?
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems