More Than Money
Issue #17

Cross-Class Relationships

Table of Contents

“Tips on Building Cross-Class Relationships”

Some days it feels tough to get close to anyone , much less to someone from a keenly different background. Yet the people we interviewed found building close relationships across class to be deeply worthwhile, an opportunity to live more fully and to gain essential perspective on themselves and the world.

If you are someone with wealth who seeks to build friendships across class, below are suggestions gleaned from our interviews.

Increase your awareness about class. What is your own class background? Your parents' backgrounds? How have your beliefs about what is valuable in life been shaped by your class background? What prejudices (both positive and negative) do you hold about people of various financial circumstances, including your own? Take time to increase your understanding about the experiences of people of other classes, and to reflect on what is both good and hard about your own class background. Learn more about labor history, economic policy, and the systemic ways our society discriminates against working-class and poor people.

Get clear about money in your relationships to others. How explicit do you want to be about your financial situation, and with whom? Under what circumstances, if any, are you open to making loans or gifts to individuals? The more on-track you feel in general about money in your life --including how you earn, spend, manage, and donate it--the more you will be able to be comfortable with people of all backgrounds. Also, be wary of making assumptions about other people's spending habits and choices of entertainment. Talk openly together; negotiate where and how you want to spend time together.

Build on common concerns. People who build close relationships across differences usually have an important commonality drawing them together: a social identity, a shared faith; passionate involvement in a project, a major life challenge ( e.g. , surviving cancer); a mutual avocation or profession. The greater the differences in style and situation, the more helpful it is to have the glue of commonalities.

Learn to listen. People of all backgrounds have a plethora of rarely expressed thoughts, feelings, and confusion about money and class. In addition, people whose lives are constrained by lack of money often carry legitimate anger and resentment about the unfairness of our economic system. If any of them feel comfortable enough with you to let that anger show, consider it an honor, and practice listening quietly without getting defensive. Remember that you do not need to take all hostility personally, even if it is expressed that way. Often the anger is against the wider system of economic inequality, which is something you can work together to change.

Move from paternalism to partnership. Listening to other people's struggles can be an opportunity for personal insight. Many owning-class people have been taught, explicitly or subtly, to internalize a variety of paternalistic and sometimes contradictory attitudes: "We are smarter and better than other people, and so have the right to make decisions on their behalf." "Anyone can become wealthy if they really want to; people who don't make it are lazy." "We can't do much about inequality, so it's fine just to enjoy what we have." "Besides, we're not really rich, others have lots more." Even if we don't consciously believe these messages, we often carry them unawares--in our tone of voice, in the kind of attention we expect from others--and these affect our relationships with people from other classes. Do some soul- searching. Ask friends for feedback, and welcome the opportunity to change. Seek out situations in which you follow working-class or poor people's leadership, or where you work as equal partners on their turf.

Keep reaching out. Expect to make mistakes: that's how we learn. You may offend or alienate some people, and feel used by others; not every attempt at connection will bloom into friendship. But don't give up. Not only do you have much to give by getting closer to all types of people, but a great deal to gain: greater clarity about yourself and the world; a more grounded sense of reality; more spice and texture in your daily life. There is also nothing like loving someone who struggles for basic necessities to make real the need to use our wealth wisely, and work towards a world where everyone has enough.

--Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian


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