Nasty News About Rich People? True or False?

“Dating back to 2009, studies have shown that rich people fail to engage with strangers as much as their poorer counterparts, have a harder time reading other people’s emotions, are less empathetic and react less strongly to seeing depictions of suffering.”*

The question the Mcclatchy Washington Bureau is raising is this: “Do rich people really not care about anyone?” Okay, two things here: 1) It is not clear that studies that measure eye gaze show that, because rich people tend to look less at other people around them, this means they don’t care. And 2), even if there are distractions or challenges feeding into this effect for the richer among us, and often to their own detriment by the way, this is nothing that a little awareness could not help heal.

Clients** I work with and people I know who may fit into this class of people care very much about contributing to humanity – at the same time they can look very much like they don’t. There is the wealthy entrepreneur who can easily be taken as singularly profit motivated to those who do not know him well enough to know that his greatest satisfaction and most deeply felt need is the good he does for others, through the business he builds and the product he provides. There is the socially shy philanthropist who gears his wealth toward justice for all. On the surface, each may appear not to care all that much for the people around them. But, this does not mean they don’t care for other people in an even larger way than many of the rest of us are able to afford. They may care about other people differently, but this does not mean they don’t care about other people at all. Maybe they even care more, despite whatever their eye gaze suggests.

This is not to say that there aren’t any rich people who care more about self-aggrandizement than they care about anything or anyone else. But for others, it might be the largeness of the responsibility inherent in their way of contributing to humanity that distracts them into looking like they don’t care. To use a smaller scale example, how many people do we know who are so consumed by providing for their families – so distracted and depleted – that they really do appear to not care about anyone else, when exactly the opposite is true. All of which is to say, careful please with our assumptions about who does and doesn’t care. There is more than meets the eye(gaze) in the mix on this point. Which brings me to our second point.

Social Capital. “Studies indicate that ‘social capital’ is one of the biggest predictors for health, happiness, and longevity.” The idea here is that social capital (friends, family, colleagues, connections, networks…) can have tremendous value, why they call it capital. If we are not mindful, there can be a trade-off between the financial capital amassed for some greater good and the social capital necessary for our own. Here’s the good news. Even the most distracted among us seem capable of slowing down enough to connect a little more once they begin to know and to feel the social deficit inside. People are busy, you may say. Who has time to connect. Except it doesn’t have to take all that much time. Sure, people can join committees, activity clubs, take lessons and the like to enrich their social capital and their health. But good things can happen in no time at all with no more than a simple smile. Smiling is exactly about social connection. That’s what it’s for. So, if you are richer financially than socially, or to increase your social capital regardless of where you stand financially, you can begin with a smile. So let’s say, next time you are at the dinner table, at a meeting, at a party, just walking down the street gazing at your phone or your navel – get out of your head. Look up, make eye contact, and smile. And then, notice how the energy in and around you shifts and uplifts in split second of time. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “Do rich people really not care about anyone?” Greg Hadley, Mcclatchy Washington Bureau. November 1, 2016

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

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