When people ask me what I do for a living, I often respond with, "Oh, I'm a professional beggar."
My headstone should read something like, "Behold, the beggar died!"
It is true. I spend a fair, and increasing, amount of my time asking people for money. With some of my friends it's become a real joke.
A few years ago, I attended a Dallas Mavericks' basketball game with my good friend, Dan Hopkins. At halftime they blindfolded some poor guy, put him down on his hands and knees and the crowd yelled "hot" or "cold" depending on how close he was to another person wearing a sandwich board with "$500" printed on both sides. If the guy reached the "target" before the music stopped, he won the money.
Dan turned to me after the guy won the money and asked, "Would you agree to do that?"
I replied, "Shoot, Dan, that's what I do for a living!"
He roared and has never let me forget it.
Across the years I have developed an authentic respect for wealthy people, and not just because of our need for their financial support.
The very rich face challenges that most of us never really think about, let alone come to understand.
There is a special sort of burden attached to being wealthy.
In fact, I've noticed across the years that the very rich often share more in common with the very poor than they do with the middle class.
In some ways, in the case of the very rich and the very poor the "sky is the limit" as we say. The wealthy can do just about whatever they decide to do, though the deciding is the challenge. While the very poor, though certainly in no position to do whatever they desire, can realize great gains and receive real encouragement even in small steps because their circumstances are so open to improvement, but again, focus is a lively issue.
The mega-rich worry about the next generation and the transfer of wealth and responsibility and the impact of all of that on children and heirs. The ultra-poor worry about their children, as well, but for much different reasons. Still, generational wealth and poverty share many of the same emotional dynamics.
Many people of wealth and poverty struggle spiritually or theologically with what their personal economic position in life means about their own faith journey, purpose and significance. In many cases both rich and poor are more attuned to this thought process than many of us in the middle range.
I've watched very wealthy people relate intimately and authentically, displaying great openness to what can be learned from the very poor. And, I must say, in a way that is often lost on many middle class folks who often come to "fix" things and to offer instructions about how things ought to be conducted. The very wealthy I've known seldom seem so conditional in their commitments to the poor, and the poor respond with friendship and appreciation that can be amazing.
Stereotypes are never very useful. And, I understand that everyone is different. But, I've seen and felt what I am describing here. I need to think more about it.
For now, let me simply say that it is intriguing to watch.
More to follow.
March 2, 2014–Transfiguration Sunday
5 days ago