Mercedes or Honda?

Two recent first-hand incidents got me to post this eccentric poll on twitter yesterday.

The two incidents:

One. I and my wife had taken our 1-year old for his first haircut. My son, sitting in his mother’s lap, looks around happily, smiling at the strangers trying to distract him, as his head is being shaved. In an another chair close by, sits an older kid, crying loudly. His father, understandably flustered, says to his crying son, in a low angry voice, pointing at us “Look at that little baby, he’s so brave, and you’re crying so much. Stop it!”

Two. At my last job, first thing in the morning, a colleague goes around the office, with an open box of sweets, offering them with a proud beaming smile. His reason, he had just gotten delivery of his new Mercedes S-Class. In his words, he had just “upgraded” from his previous car, a 4-year old Honda Civic. His smile grew wider as people congratulated him heartily.

Do we make poor choices because of how we imagine we will be perceived?

Would the father react differently if he and his son were the only occupants of the salon? Perhaps able to focus his energy on trying to empathise with his child’s obvious discomfort? I have no doubt that he cares for his son deeply. Yet, in that moment, the imagined disapproval of 10 strangers in the room made him react angrily to his already unhappy child.

Would my colleague have the same beaming smile if his new car did not wear the most recognisable three-pointed star on the planet? “Recognisable” being the key word. I am fairly certain, if given the option, he would refuse to trade his S-Class for a Koenigsegg Jesko (the latter is roughly 6x the price, and 0.0001x the recognisability)

What did the poll say? Taken at face value, it indicates that a little over half the people would pick the “higher quality” Mercedes even if it appeared to the world, as a lower end car. The remaining 46% would pick the lower functionality / drivability of the Honda as long as they can get the approval that comes from driving the Mercedes.

There are too many flaws in such a simplistic conclusion. I did not clarify whether money was a constraint. Maybe people picked the Honda that looked like a Mercedes for the lower cost of ownership, and not for the approval. Maybe some people really consider the Civic a better car than the S-Class.

This is obviously not a scientific social study. Nor is it meant to be critical of the motivations of people buying premium possessions. I don’t think there is anything wrong in wanting that logo for the way it makes you feel.

My concern is if most of my decisions are made on the basis of the lens through which others might view them.

Maybe we should try and develop the self-awareness to know what is the underlying motivation for wanting that <<insert object of desire here>>.

Knowing that motivation can give us pause to recognise the potential trade-off of single-mindedly going after it, and make a more informed decision. Is it worth it?

that net worth (vs. health and wellbeing?)…

that designation (vs. doing something you truly enjoy?)…

that upmarket penthouse apartment (vs. the crush of a massive EMI)…

the quiet well-behaved child (vs. an unhappy uncommunicative one?)…

the 350-likes on an instagram selfie on a luxury beach resort (vs. postponing financial independence)…

Mercedes or Honda…

Here’s to making conscious choices.

4 thoughts on “Mercedes or Honda?

  • July 21, 2019 at 9:10 am

    Having an inner scorecard definitely helps, but, humans being social animals, will always seek for acceptance from the society.
    Interesting thing is, apart from an enlighten few, most of us (including yours truely) fall for these baises. The only thing, i guess, we can control is falling for a less costly bais.

  • July 21, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Great point about how we are all susceptible to social pressure. Like you said, we can only hope to not make those mistakes on the vital decisions (career, life partner, big lifestyle decisions)

  • July 21, 2019 at 9:50 am

    Maybe our endeavour should be to shrink the circle of people who’s approval we seek. Like in terms of parenting, I would like the approval of a few people I know are good parents. The rest don’t matter.

  • July 21, 2019 at 10:44 am

    Totally agree with you.
    I think, in this age of information overload, our pruning techniques should also be sound enough. Maybe thus is what Buffets keeps referring to when he says “staying within once circle og competence”


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