Social Relativity: From Nobody to Superstar

Personal values and social status are always relative.

They are relative because there is no set measure and because they don’t depend only on you.
Indeed, for the most part, they depend on the assessment of the people around them.

You can be a star in one group and a nobody in another one. In the short span of a few minutes.

This post will review social relativity from a group’s perspective.

Social Relativity Examples

Let’s quickly review different types of groups that will make you valuable -or useless- within them.

Interest Groups Afford Power Based On Very Specific Skills And Traits

Some groups aggregate around their interests.

Being good at whatever skill those groups value will give you status within that specific group.

  • In a stamp collection club, the guy with the most stamps will see a boost in his social value
  • In tuning groups, the guy with the most powerful car and stereo will probably be one of the coolest guys
  • And in a group of hooligans, it will be fanatism—or violence—that will determine who has the highest value and most social power

football fans

Some Groups Exclude Based on Lack of Common Traits

Some groups bond around a certain trait.

That trait might not be an advantage because everyone has it.
But if you don’t have it, you’re almost automatically excluded.

For example, older people who go to university feel awkward.

They will be the only older ones, the same age as the professors but on the part of the students.

But being of a different age almost automatically makes you an outsider in that social hierarchy.

Which basically means: you don’t belong.

Rank-Based Groups Afford Status Based on Rank

In companies, a lot of your social status will depend on your position within that company, which is rather formalized through a title.

As John Maxwell says, titles don’t make leaders, but titles certainly have a major impact on the social hierarchy within the company—and on the social status too.

Hate Groups: There Is One Hidden in Any Group

Sometimes groups can get nasty toward outsiders.

As a matter of fact, as Baumeister explains, almost any group has in it the seeds to oppose other groups.

Hate groups often award the most status to the most extreme members.
The most extreme member might not otherwise shine in any other way than his shallow charisma, hate, and rage.

Hate groups are most likely to form when:

  • There is a strong pride in what makes them a group
  • They build their pride around out-group enemies
  • There is a high level of similarity among members
  • Out-groups are seen as dangerous for the group

Here is one example from the movie “School Ties”:

The highest social status is probably going to the one who concocted and prepared the hated banner.

Bars & Clubs: Your Status Is Relative To The Other Patrons

Sometimes you will loosely be part of a group simply because of your geographical location or proximity.

In a club, for example, your social status is highly relative to the people who are attending that club and is mostly based on your looks, clothes, body language, mannerisms, display of wealth, and group of friends.

Sometimes that will play well for you, and other times it will not.

For example, one evening I ended up in a club in Madrid where the local football players hang out. Most of the girls in there were hookers looking for football players.

The social currency there was (football) popularity and money.
I shouldn’t need to tell you I was pretty much a nobody there :).

Forced Groups Are Free For All

Some groups form out of necessity and not out of our participants’ own will.

Some examples are:

  • High school
  • Military drafts
  • Prisons

These groups tend to be highly differentiated, and there is little overlap between what’s popular in one group and what works in another group.

Popularity is the high school social currency; strength is the social currency in the military; and violence and alliances in prisons

Environmental Impact On Personal Values

Sometimes you will completely change the environment without joining any specific group.

For example: when you travel to different countries,

Simply being more exotic can get people to notice you more and make you more interesting.
Or because of stereotypes or real differences, you can be perceived as “better” than the people around you.

Dating is one of the starkest examples of social relativity.
A white man traveling to an African or Southeast Asian country will immediately boost his status.
In some cases, it will skyrocket your value. See this example of this Philippine woman, who had never seen me nor met me, throwing herself at me:

social relativity in dating
social relativity can swing to some crazy extremes

Win Every Time: Value Targeting

And now how you can use the theory of social relativity in real life.

To get what you want from people, to start friendships, or to start a relationship: get and show them the currency they specifically value.

For example:

Get artistic value to date an artist

Do you like artistic folks, do you want to join an art circle and maybe have an artist as a wife/husband?

Of course, they are likely to want people with the same social currencies that they value.

Here’s what you do: start drawing, acting, and attending art exhibitions.

You’ll pick the lingo and the common topics and you’ll be able to give the comfort of a shared culture and passion.

Or learn the history of art better than most and teach her about the history of art -women dream to sleep with their professors :)-.

Give business value to get business value

Do you want to mingle in business circles and attract a top business mentor?

Don’t write you seek employment from them, that’s what everybody does. Speak to him in a currency he wants instead.
Ideally, you’ll go for an emotional bond and connection. Or he will want to be a father figure to you.

But that’s not easy to achieve.
So the second best option is what all business people appreciate: what’s in it for them“.

Tell him you’ll work for free for 3 months, and if you’re great and only if you’re great he can start paying you.

Otherwise, you’ll be happy for having learned from him and he got free labor.
Now he’s going to listen.

Social Chameleon

Being a social chameleon is all about understanding what social currency the people around you appreciate.

And then playing up those qualities while muting the ones they don’t.

In short: understand the group’s social currency and trade that currency.

A breadth of experience will help you develop lots of reference points so that you will always have something to offer.

Group Social Value Drawbacks

The very nature of group specificity makes groups’ status less valuable.

In the Small Pond Syndrome, we reviewed how some people spend an inordinate amount of energy to boost and defend their social statuses in some specific groups.
Only to one day move out of those groups and realize that what they had was… Meaningless.

The new group doesn’t know about their previous social status and… They couldn’t care less.

Now they’re back to nobodies.

That’s why unless you stick to a specific group for your whole life, I would advise caring little about the group’s internal social status.

When Status is LESS Relative

Alright, here is the good news:

You can develop currencies that will work no matter which you join.

In The Social Exchange Rule, we reviewed that social relationships often obey a non-written rule based on social value exchange.

It postulates that the more social value you possess, the more you can demand from others.
We dubbed that social value “social currency”.

In this article, we saw that the currencies always change depending on the group.

That stands.

However, some currencies are almost always in demand, no matter the group you are in.

Some examples of them are:

  • Social skills
  • Conversation skills
  • Great looks
  • Lots of resources (or ability to acquire them)
  • Confidence

When you possess them, you tend to do well in almost any social circle you join.

Better Specific Currencies or General Ones?

In some instances, groups’ specific currencies, or the qualities that a specific group appreciates, can count more than the general ones.

And in extreme examples, even subvert them.

For example, a positive and upbeat personality is what most people like.
But if you want to enter a circle of emo and Gothic subcultures your smiles and positive attitude might make you an outcast.

However, as a rule of thumb, you should put all your effort into developing general-appeal currencies.

Those allow you to enter and do well in almost any group.

Developing group-specific currencies instead is dangerous and ties all your fortune to a single group.
And you’re better off free as a bird than anchored to the same group for all your life :).


We have seen that what people value can be highly relative depending on the groups you join.

Your social status in those groups will hinge on whether or not you have the currencies that the group values.

Most groups however are not very strict and value what most other groups value.

Focus on those general currencies and you’ll do great.

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