The rich weigh in

The weekend retreat that introduced me to de-cluttering guru Helen Volk also presented Christopher Mogil and Anne Stephian, who were approaching these questions from the other side. Their perspective spoke to people who have financial abundance and even surplus – individuals of substance who want to use their wealth to make a difference in the world. Especially those who inherited vast sums at ages 18, 21, or 25. Christopher and Anne’s organization, the Impact Project, published the quarterly journal More Than Money, addressing these questions from the other side of the coin.

Who would have thought having too much could be as troubling as not having enough?

How do you respond to a friend who approaches you for a loan?

How do you manage your trust manager, rather than the other way around, or find dependable financial advisors?

What are the best ways of assuring that your giving produces a meaningful difference?

How just are inheritance taxes?

Maybe Scott Fitzgerald was right, “The rich are different from you and me.” Simultaneously, Ernest Hemingway’s sharp retort, “Yeah, they’ve got more money,” kept coming to mind. I was even beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable thinking about all the responsibilities of being rich, as well as all the pitfalls.

While The Great Gatsby, The Last Tycoon, even Tender Is the Night initially entice us with impressions of great wealth that’s festive, flashy, and seductive, there’s a dark side to a life devoted to shrewd calculations, lavish parties, and social privilege. We don’t need Fitzgerald to remind us how any number of family inheritances have been emptied by alcohol or drug abuse, repeated divorces, or gambling. Billionaire Leona Helmsley’s obituary included references to her ostentatious spending and the fact she’d become known as “the Queen of Mean.”

In other words, having more than enough is no guarantee you’ll find satisfaction.

*   *   *

When it comes to satisfaction, looking closely at money means recognizing what money can and cannot do. When it’s used to temporarily ease buried emotional pain, it fosters addiction; escapism does nothing to cure the cause of such pain itself, which instead requires direct encounters with spiritual wisdom, even when this doesn’t appear as religion. The name of the disease is “affluenza.” The name of the cure is grace.

Philanthropist Paul Mellon touched on this when he quipped, “What this country needs is a good five-cent reverie.” Forget the cigar, it was only a prop, anyway – the excuse to lean back for a moment, stretch, and inhale.


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