days it feels tough to get close to
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.
you are someone with wealth who seeks to build friendships
across class, below are suggestions gleaned from our interviews.
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.
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.
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
, 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.
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
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.
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.
Mogil and Anne Slepian
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved