DARE TO ASK: Does society kowtow to the rich?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why does it seem that people are treated better in almost every aspect if
they have plenty of money, while middle-class and lower-class people suffer?
Jaymar, 38, middle class, Lexington, S.C.
Would you be quicker to do a big favor for your destitute brother-in-law or
for Bill Gates?
Morpheus, New York, N.Y.
I don't see great differences in how people are treated. The difference is in
who people spend time with. The wealthy do things that aren't available to me
because I cannot afford them. On the other hand, the wealthy might prefer being
at their yacht club to being in my dining room playing pinochle.
Pete, 43, lower middle class, Livonia, Mich.
I treat all people with dignity. You are the person you are, and money will
not change that. If you speak with respect, you will receive respect.
M. Francis, 48, upper middle class, Black Rock City, Nev.
People of "higher class" are not always treated better. I've got a job and
have never stolen anything in my life, but because I'm a teenager, store clerks
automatically look like they need to bolt things down to the counter with a nail
gun when I walk in the door.
Ashley, 17, upper middle class, Pasco, Wash.
At some level we probably see the successful as tight with God and hence
entitled to extra respect. That attitude is wrong.
Hollis H., 66, middle class, Kansas City, Mo.
Jim O'Donnell made a tidy sum catering to the rich as head of Fidelity
Investments' "High Net Worth" group in Boston. Then he ditched it all, became an
economics professor at Huntington College in Indiana and wrote books like
Letters for Lizzie about how faith helped him face his wife's cancer battle.
"It got to a point where I asked myself ... do I want my life to be about
helping rich people become richer?"
He didn't leave without forming strong opinions on why the astoundingly
affluent regularly get perks.
"We live in a culture increasingly driven by money and celebrity. We think,
'They don't have my problems and if they do, they'll be settled because they
understand what moves the world' -- money."
Though we may say we envy or dislike the rich, we're actually dying to please
them. And not just because they can pay more.
"We've moved away from valuing courage, character, virtue as emblems of what
the good life is," O'Donnell said. "Those [qualities] have a small currency
value but being on Survivor, now that's 'real' life ... It is now deeply
embedded in our culture that wealth and some kind of celebrity has its
privileges, and we accept it because we think they are 'better' people."
Take some solace, though: mega-rich people are generally only a bit happier
than average folks, according to University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener.
Once money provides basics such as food and shelter, its cache in the
"well-being" department drops off considerably, he found in surveys of Forbes'
list of richest Americans.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.