The richer you are, the less likely that you will empathize with those less fortunate, according to researcher Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, and the author of “Emotional Intelligence”. In a piece in the NYTimes, Goleman says,
A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker.
Makes you wonder if someone who starts out as a community organizer, say, and then becomes powerful and wealthy, if that person may lose touch with the plight of those he once served. Further,
Social distance makes it all the easier to focus on small differences between groups and to put a negative spin on the ways of others and a positive spin on our own.
If Goleman is correct, the growing inequality and shifting class structure in America bodes ill for many of us. According to Former President Jimmy Carter, in Oakland at a Habitat for Humanity construction site, when he occupied the White House,
“The disparity between rich people and poor people in America has increased dramatically since when we started,” he said. “The middle class has become more like poor people than they were 30 years ago. So I don’t think it’s getting any better.”
There may be hidden benefit for the non-rich. People tend to rely on their network of family and friends when they have fewer resources. When you need a ride home from the airport, do you call a cab or a friend?
As we do so often, in the end we turn to Oprah: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”