Saturday, April 28, 2012

In Another Person's Shoes

Trey Smith

Who is more likely to lie, cheat, and steal — the poor person or the rich one? It’s temping to think that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to act fairly. After all, if you already have enough for yourself, it’s easier to think about what others may need. But research suggests the opposite is true: as people climb the social ladder, their compassionate feelings towards other people decline.
~ from How Wealth Reduces Compassion by Daisy Grewal ~
It should come as no surprise to readers that I find the results of these various studies unremarkable. It has been my general opinion all along that the wealthy are less compassionate than the rest of us! I don't state this due to any personal animus toward the well-to-do; it just seems par for the course to me.

In many -- though certainly NOT all -- cases, people become wealthy because of their ability to step on or over others. We live in an ultra-competitive society and the financially successful must possess the cajones to out-compete others. When your goal is to get to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible, you learn to push aside anyone who might happen to impede your progress. If you stop to consider other people's feelings -- exhibit compassion -- someone else will move ahead of you and, maybe, even knock you back down the slope.

Those of us who are not financially well-off better understand the struggles of trying to get by day-to-day. While we may be thankful for what little we have, we intuitively understand that one crisis or major expense easily could knock us several rungs down the ladder. And so, we feel a sort of kindred spirit with those not as fortunate as us and we can better identify with the maxim, there but for fortune go you or I.

Grewal highlights another important reason these results should be a no-brainer.
But why would wealth and status decrease our feelings of compassion for others? After all, it seems more likely that having few resources would lead to selfishness. Piff and his colleagues suspect that the answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused.
Yes, one of the "perks" of wealth is the freedom to be self-absorbed. When you don't need the overall community to help support and nurture you, you are less likely to be all that concerned with the needs of others.

For all you Christians out there, why do you think Jesus eschewed wealth, status and fame? He could have had all of that and more, if he so desired. Me thinks he chose not to dull his sense of compassionate caring. By living and traveling amongst the outcasts of his society, he sought to preserve his humaneness.

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