Dare to ask: Why are the wealthy so rude?
By Phillip Milano
I always figured the higher someone's education and the more money, the
better their manners. So why do so many people with money and education seem to
be the rudest?
G. Havill, 19, female, Mount Vernon, Iowa
Sometimes people with a lot of money or with a lot of education seem to think
they are "better" than others. But "more" does not always make something
S. Rollison, 49, female, New Alexandria, Pa.
It's a matter of training, not money, and an increasing number of people who
have the latter disdain the former as "beneath them." "Upper class" and "classy"
are pretty much a contradiction in terms.
Ann, 40, Kansas City, Mo.
It may have to do with centuries of cocky, mean upper-class gentry types from
past civilizations. . . . The other theory is that poor people are more generous
because they know what it's like to be poor.
Stephanie, Washington, D.C.
We thought we'd get at least a few "they're just like the rest of us, no
better and no worse"-type responses. Where's the love? We know there's been no
redistribution yet, but c'mon.
We found a whiz who studied the wealthy, and yep, he found that they're just
like the rest of us, no better and no worse.
Most people think rich folks inherited their money or got it by an unfair
advantage, but that's usually not the case, said Doug Harrison, co-author of The
New Elite: Inside the Minds of the Truly Wealthy.
For example, about 90 percent of the wealth earned in the United States in
the past decade was by entrepreneurs from the middle class who worked their way
up the hard way, he said.
"People who created wealth usually have good values," said Harrison, who with
his co-authors talked to about 4,000 people across the top 10 percent of the
U.S. economy, "with a serious focus on people with $5 million or greater in
"You don't become successful by being a [jerk], you do it by being good to
people who work for you and to your customers and your bankers."
The problem is, many of us don't know it when we encounter rich types, most
of whom are "regular people," so we don't "see" behavior that counters media
stereotypes of "stupid, flippant" richies such as Paris Hilton or Britney
Spears, he said.
Plus, maybe poorer people's nastiness gets a free pass because they don't
have an advantage over you.
"If you run into rude rich people, you might be like 'God they are an - -. If
I was in that position I wouldn't be that way,' but if it's a rude redneck, you
might think 'Well of course they're going to be that way, and I don't care
because I'm better than them.' "
Not all upper-crusts are perfect, though.
"Some have people around them who allow them to be very efficient, so they
get used to it," Harrison said. "They start expecting it, so if someone fails to
perform, it can tick them off."
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. Send general
column comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
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