How I came to realize the need for attention is about social status.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists invited me to speak at their annual conference. I was able to visit the UK for the first time, meet many interesting people, and have my expenses paid. How could I refuse?
Being a curious sort, I asked my hosts why their organization is called the "Royal" College of Psychiatrists, as opposed to the "British" college. Could anybody call themselves "royal"? In America, for example, I could open a hamburger stand and call it the "President's" burgers.
My hosts explained they had to apply for a charter from the royal family to be able to call their organization the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Further, the organization was assigned a member of the royal family to be its patron. Prince Charles, who was the patron, flew in via helicopter to speak to the conference.
On the morning of the prince's talk, I arrived early and sat in the second row of seats only a few feet away from where Charles would be seated. "Wow," I thought, "this beats going to the UK as a tourist. Wait a minute, I am going to be very close to the prince and nobody checked me out.” In fact, I couldn't see any security officers walking around.
Fifteen minutes before the talk, the nobles entered the room and sat in the first row of chairs. Then representatives from the press entered and kneeled on the floor in front of the nobles.
Prince Charles entered the room, walked to the front, and sat in his chair waiting for the session to begin. I just stared at him. What kind of socks does a prince wear? Look at his shirt! His haircut! Then I realized I was gawking. When I looked around the room, almost everyone was gawking. Suddenly it struck me how awkward I would feel if everybody stared at me the way we were staring at Charles. The prince, however, was handling the situation with ease and dignity, as if it were natural that people would stare at him.
This experience led me to realize the primal connection between status and attention. We pay attention to people who have high status, and we ignore those with low status. By definition, royals have the highest possible social status after the divine. Hence, we gawk at royals, who think it is normal that we do so.
Charles gave a very good speech. He suggested the stigma of mental illness rubs off on the doctors who serve this population. Thus, psychiatry is a low-status medical profession. "Good thinking for a prince," I thought to myself.
After Prince Charles finished his talk, a British soldier informed us they had moved our luggage from the hotel’s sleeping rooms to the lobby. I retrieved my suitcase, opened it up, and discovered a note from the prince’s security detail notifying me they had inspected my bag. The security was so good I didn't notice it until I received that written note.