Tuesday, December 30, 2014



            This is not my title: it came from the December 31 issue of an intriguing magazine: THE WEEK (Pg. 32).  I was instantly fascinated, having never been aware that wealth does anything to your soul. Perhaps we’re simply not that wealthy—meaning until now our souls have remained unafflicted.

            The sub-title reads: “Getting rich won’t make you happy, said Michael Lewis. But it will make you more selfish and dishonest.”  Of course from then on I was hooked.  The article includes numerous studies, beginning with one about rich kids at a tennis camp—and how the director used a shortage of the “best” cereal—Fruit Loops—to teach kids that rushing to grab the preferred cereal made them feel worse than backing off and leaving it for some other kid. For those children, the tennis camp became a life lesson on the good feelings inspired by generosity. Beautifully written, this study will remain in my memory--a microcosm of the best and worst in all of us. 

            Close to these same ideas, I can share a few experiences of my own.  My family won’t like my bringing this up, but since I’ve written a book called, “Save My Son,” it’s no secret that we have a son with addiction problems. And thus it should come as no surprise that from time to time we’ve visited him in our local jail. Some days it was miserably hot and the outside line was long, and I was forced to stand there with everyone else, feeling out of place and not “one of the crowd.” 

Yet the same thing happened over and over. Just as I’d reached some kind of apex of snobbishness and misery,  some woman or man who was “not my people,” would lean toward me and say, “Why don’t you go sit down over there?” pointing to a cement bench. “I’ll save your place in line.” This happened to me many times—a moment of generosity extended by someone of a different race and social class. In fact, I can honestly say I’ve found more kindness in jail lines than any other kind of line.

            It happened again a few nights ago. Rob and I were having hamburgers at “In and Out,” squeezed together at a tiny table that passed for a booth. Next to us was a lady we’d never have met at Stanford. Yet she was clearly worried about us. “Over there,” she said suddenly, “there’s a table that’s come empty,” and she urged us to go grab it. When somebody else took it first, she never stopped searching—to help us. 

Would we have done this for somebody else? Probably not. 

The article cites a study that showed it was the expensive cars that were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers of cheap cars—and far less likely to respect the rights of pedestrians. Another study of truly rich people found that most declared they’d need two to three times more money to feel happier.  A researcher explains what actually happens to the very rich—in biological terms. You should read the article for yourself.   
            We are now of an age where our kids and grandkids can’t think of what to give us for Christmas—and we don’t blame them. Rob and I are out of ideas for what to give each other. But I can say—I hope with humility—that my happiest moment each year comes when Rob decides to give our ten grandkids some common stock. Just knowing what it means to them, to their modest way of life, lights up my soul.  

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