Does being rich affect your level of compassion? The short answer? Yes. To some, this may seem like a ridiculous or presumptuous question, but bear with us. It’s worth discussing and there is some merit to this claim.
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at some data. There is an abundance of research conducted at UC Berkeley regarding social behavior and relations. Many happiness researchers, including Sonja Lyubomirsky, have found that people simply feel good after doing something kind for someone else. The brain area associated with pleasure activates after you do something nice for someone. Why? You feel good about yourself, you’re more hopeful, you understand there is a common quality that connects all humans and you may be more likely to help out, empathy, etc. Many of these overlap with notions of happiness as well, not surprisingly.
Dr. Piff, a researcher at UC Berkeley, states that one way to initiate a shift in perspective that is more empathic is through volunteering. This allows for a bridge between those who are privileged in one-way volunteering and helping those who are lacking in a resource or ability. This intermix encourages conversation and an exchanging of ideas. There is strong support for the idea that the intermingle helps you adopt the perspectives of others. This shines light on the idea that those who are close-minded tend to be less empathic. Close-mindedness and empathy seem to oppose each other.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that the rich tend to donate a smaller portion of their wealth to charity than the middle class. Additionally, if the rich lived together in one neighborhood, the overall amount that the rich neighborhood would donate would be even lower. However, when they live in a neighborhood that consists of those from varying socioeconomic statuses, they are more likely to donate more to charity.
Is it the money or is it something else?
Something else. The money is not what causes people to be so disconnected with others; it’s their status and everything that comes with it. When you feel rich, you feel superior. This difference in power dynamic actually does something to the way you behave and see the world and others.
This doesn’t mean that the rich are evil by nature. It may be that their perspectives are limited by a number of things, and this prevents them from feeling for or empathizing with others. One thing the rich can do is simply learn more about the diverse statuses in the states. They can even strive to be open to getting to know more people or investing themselves into expanding their social awareness.
The solution is to minimize this gap between the rich and the poor–easier said than done. Unfortunately, it seems like the gap is rising, meaning that as long as that trend continues, there will be a lot of mean people in this country.
There are a couple reasons why the wealthy tend to contribute less of their income to charity. But what all these ideas and reasons fall back on is empathy. It is difficult to connect with someone else through the common human struggle and having the burden of trying to figure out how to survive, yet also live in accordance with other people. Studies like these really show us something about humanity, how humans connect and how we should relate to each other in order to achieve individual happiness.
Photo by: Will Baldwin