Sunday, February 16, 2014

does making a lot of money make you behave badly?

"as a person's levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of deservingness, entitlement and their ideology of self-interest increase."

paul piff at berkeley did a TEDtalk called, "does money make you mean?" (watch the video of the monopoly game, it's hilarious). the video came out in december of last year, but on february 2, there was an op-ed in the ny times called, "how inequality hollows out the soul."

what does that mean in real life? (a picture on zach vella's instagram feed shows a naked girl - or is that me - tortured and bound to a mercedes symbol. her hands and feet appear to be bleeding.

a reporter from a major news source called me and asked what was going on with
zach vella (my next door neighbor and the developer) and the condo project beside me, 11 north moore, which is getting quite a lot of attention with its $40 million penthouse apartment. the real estate agent representing it is fredrik eklund, whose second claim to fame is the reality show, the real deal. leo dicaprio, amongst others, famously toured the sales office.

paul piff found that more wealthy people were "able to moralize greed being good and the pursuit of self-interest being favorable and moral..."

the video came out in december of last year, but on february 2, there was an op-ed in the ny times called, "how inequality hollows out the soul."

"Paul Piff, also a psychologist at Berkeley, has shown that higher status is indeed associated with more unethical and narcissistic behavior. Mr. Piff found that drivers of more expensive cars were less likely to give way to pedestrians or to other cars. Higher status people were also more likely to help themselves to candies that they had been told were intended for children. He found that they also had a greater sense of entitlement and were less generous."

my youngest daughter is a serious student. she is always responsible, shockingly bright and very hardworking. getting into a great college is what keeps her up at night and she just turned 15. 

friday morning, i woke with a jolt thinking her alarm hadn't gone off. i jumped, but then realized that the light had changed and i was mistaken. so i said, "don't worry, you can still sleep for ten minutes."

she answered, "it's 6:58 and i've told you over and over that i wake up at 7:15! it is 6:58 so i still have 17 minutes to sleep - not TEN minutes!"

me: "what difference does it make if it is 17 or 10 minutes? in the end, it doesn't matter how smart you are or what college you get into if you are making other people feel small or stupid or taken advantage of."
i told her (like i tell all my kids) that the most important thing they can be is considerate to other people.
then the construction workers started shouting and banging in front of my bedroom window and it occurred to me that, in today's world, it's simply not true. 
many successful, wealthy people are quite comfortable taking advantage of or hurting the people who seem "unimportant" to them from the doorman to their less fortunate neighbors.
that ability to believe yourself "above" ethical or compassionate behavior - or even traffic rules - is now standard amongst the american wealthy. look at lisa demack who drove her mercedes through a stop sign and hit an ambulance. or the wealthy texas boy who killed four people and was acquitted because he suffered "affluenza."  (his parents could probably afford a very good lawyer).
the idea that there is opportunity (or even justice) for an ordinary person - wait, middle-class, college-educated, living in expensive real estate - is a lie. clearly, i am not a poor person, but i am disempowered.

so, after offering to clean up the flood, rent my apartment and fix it up, give me the money for the repairs or even talk to me - what happened? um, nothing. zach vella went on holiday in the caribbean. AFTER hanging an enormous sign for his project on the scaffolding outside my building.

my lawyer asked for them to pay for the repairs or at, the very least, follow up on all their offers. they simply ignored him. without a lot more money to pay for legal fees, they knew i wasn't going to do more than make demands. 

the end of the TEDtalk cheered me up. it IS possible for the 1% to feel compassion, as long as they faced it.

did i mention i briefly saw zach on the street two weeks' ago? he avoided me and rushed across the street to his big black SUV. (however, i do have plenty of friends who prove that the 1% are capable of kindness and compassion)

the truth is, none of us are perfect. we've all made mistakes or been inconsiderate, but taking responsibility for your actions, with compassion and empathy should not be restricted to the 99%.

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