Your average person assumes that the rich people of this world are just like them—only that they have a lot more money! Well, you know what they say about the word “assume,” don’t you? When one assumes something he or she takes a risk of making an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” So how are the rich different from the poor?
Writing in the journal, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at U.C. Berkeley, suggests that our society assumes that the lower socio-economic classes have all the problems in life. Granted, he says, the poor truly are more susceptible to all kinds of diseases and health problems than the rich. However, the poor have something extremely valuable that the rich haven’t been able to buy up with their piles of “filthy lucre.”
In fact this qualitative distinction between rich and poor classes—please note that class difference has been markedly increasing in the Western world—has become so pronounced that neutral observers can determine a person’s socio-economic class based on merely 60 seconds of video-taped social interaction.
During those 60 seconds of human contact between two strangers, your typical rich person reveals his class affiliation through consistent displays of social behaviours that are lacking in empathy, social engagement, generosity, and sensitivity. In comparison, your typical member of the lower classes instinctively treats others with far more empathy, altruism, and sensitivity because a person who is NOT wealthy has learned that he or she needs other human beings to survive and prosper. Lower class people learn early in life that they have to ask for help when they need it and to offer it to others in return. In contrast, the wealthy generally feel entitled to “focus on the self” and they believe that they’ve earned their own opportunities without the help of others.
The research model that produced such conclusions is not a fluke. It’s been replicated nearly a dozen times by other psychological researchers. Most charities have long known that the poor will give three times more as a percentage of their pre-tax income to help others than the rich. This charitable fact of life has been consistent for the almost 40 years that I’ve been involved with religious charities. It has always been the poor people who’ve carried the major part of the financial burden of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the $10, $20, and $50 donations from the working poor and blue collar people for the most part that have enabled the Church to survive and do its work.
Of course, there are notable exceptions to this generality on both sides of the class divide. But perhaps, surprisingly to you, this observation that the rich ARE different in comparison to the poor is not new. In fact this pattern is thousands of years old. Consider this observation made by Jesus of Nazareth:
Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.”
The man asked, “What in particular?” Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”
The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?” “If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”
That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crest-fallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.
As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom” (Matthew 19:16-23 The Message translation by Eugene Peterson).
The problem with too many rich people is that they possess too many things and all this stuff begins to mess with their heads! Things have a perverse way of subtly taking hold of and possessing the possessor. Consequently spiritual attitudes like altruism, self-sacrifice, and doing for one’s neighbour as one would have done for oneself—just end up seeming to cost too much for too many of the wealthy.