YEARS AGO, I was told by many friends not to "come
out" in a major Newsweek piece about philanthropy
in Silicon Valley. They predicted that I
would be besieged with requests for grants and regret
giving up my privacy. The result of going public: I received
a huge number of laudatory notes from all over the world,
reconnected with some long-lost friends, and, oh yes,
there were a mere few requests for funding. It was a very
positive experience, despite the worries of many concerned
friends and family. Most importantly, becoming a role
model did have a positive impact on others, which was
the major objective of giving up lots of valuable time
to be interviewed and photographed.
BESIDES THE EXCELLENT reasons
already mentioned for "coming out," others include:
Living honestly in the world has its own advantages,
both emotionally and morally.
Coming out is an excellent mechanism for sorting
the wheat from the chaff, in terms of friends, acquaintances,
It's a reality check-we find out we're not
nearly so deep in the closet as we think we are. It's
a humbling and excellent experience for the wealthy
to realize we're not controlling the environment.
Bad experiences. Although infrequent, they
do happen-and they're leveling. It provides the opportunity
to build empathy, understanding, and compassion for
all people who are targets of prejudice.
It annoys the right wing. It's fun to watch
them foam at the mouth about "limousine liberals."
Money is power. The wielding of power should
be done in the open, not in secret.
I HAVE BEEN STRUGGLING
all my life with the question of how public to be about
wealth. I am a second- generation inheritor (my grandfather
created our family's wealth) and my father's views on
wealth colored my own. The legacy he passed along to us
children was a discomfort with the subject and feelings
of shame and obligation. On the positive side, we were
raised to believe that ostentation was a bad thing (I
still agree with that); that we should all work, despite
the fact that we could afford not to; and that we should
become active philanthropists. On the down side, we were
taught to apologize for our wealth, to worry about how
others thought of us and our wealth, and to fear that
many would take advantage of us if they knew of our wealth.
Now, at age 34, I am finally
coming to terms with my wealth, recognizing that it has
helped to shape who I am. I am now purchasing things that
reflect my net worth (such as a large Park Avenue apartment
and a luxury car) because I can have them, and I no longer
worry about what others might think of me. I also recently
pledged half a million dollars to my former boarding school
for a scholarship. The school is thrilled because I am
the youngest board member and they believe my gift will
inspire others to give. They asked if they could issue
a press release and publish an article about my donation
in their bulletin. At first I was concerned because I
did not want it to seem as if I made the gift for the
publicity; I didn't want to be viewed as "showy."
However, I came to realize that the school wanted to use
me as an example and the attention generated by my gift
would likely bring more funding to the school.
I TALK OPENLY ABOUT MY
financial situation with:
those who know me
anyone who asks (and they do- because when
asked what I do, I say I'm currently on unpaid leave
from teaching and exploring who I am without it. The
next question is nearly always, "How do you not
need to work, if you don't mind me asking?")
women who seem to be in a similar situation
the men I date, since it will impact them
if they choose to build a relationship with me, much
as my having an illness or a child still at home would.
think of myself as pretty much "out." I'm sure,
for instance, that most of the parents at the school where
I taught knew, and my neighbors certainly do. But I'm
not given to just bringing it up for no apparent reason
. . . or to "model" anything.
IT'S TAKEN ME A WHILE to
feel comfortable with our unexpected wealth (stock options
that we saved and that have increased in value). We don't
talk about our wealth directly. We sometimes just say
that it is incredible to have this opportunity. Some things
that I do (and probably I would do them even if I didn't
have wealth) are:
I pay people fairly, responsibly, and above
We put our names on donations that we give.
We have made several matching grants and have had total
strangers come up to us and say thank you. (It feels
good.) My husband has said we need to stand up and be
counted, so we are.
last thing: I took a class at our local church. It is
an alternative church based on many religious philosophies.
I was in a small-group discussion and when we were talking
about abundance, I "came out" about our wealth
to the group. The group was extremely supportive and my
coming out didn't change either the relationships or the
tone of the group. I was quite nervous talking about it,
so I added some humor to the situation. I said, "This
is what a millionaire looks like." The others in
the group just said, "It's okay," and that they
were pleased to be with someone who had so much integrity
and willingness to give back. They were very glad that
we were using our money responsibly to help others. Now
when I see those people, they treat me just like regular
folk, which I really am.
BEING WEALTHY IS BOTH worshipped
and denigrated in our society. Coming out exposes one
to adulation and envy, as well as to the snide comments.
You have to be prepared for either reaction from friends
and acquaintances. It is only a third reaction that feels
good-the pleasant support of people who understand and
accept whatever you have done in disclosing wealth. Those
reactions are less common, but can make it worthwhile.
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