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Why the wealthy need to learn what really matters

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on March 1, 2012 at 9:25 AM


A new study conducted by Paul Piff and his colleagues at UC Berkeley reports that wealthy people are more likely to lie and cheat in order to win a prize or gain an advantage over others. The experiments conducted by the research team suggest that at least some wealthier people “perceive greed as positive and beneficial, … privilege themselves over others, and engage in self-interested patterns of behavior.”

According to Piff, as quoted in an article in Bloomberg News, “as you rise in the ranks … you become more self-focused.” These findings may explain why the wealthiest 1% of society has such a difficult time relating to the concerns of the 99% as evidenced during the recent Occupy movement. The researchers speculated that the less wealthy must rely more on others in the community to survive and therefore are more likely to care about the well-being of the entire community, while the wealthy can take care of themselves.

Perhaps this study also explains why our political leaders seem to be increasingly out of touch with the needs of the public, because many of them have come from positions of wealth and privilege. They see no need for a safety net for others less fortunate because they are obsessed with their own issues and concerns and don’t understand why others can’t be just like them.

However, in my work with dying patients in hospice, I found that many of the wealthiest patients I met were totally distraught at the end of their lives to realize that the money and possessions they had gathered over the years meant nothing to them when faced with their demise. They often regretted the fact that they had ignored relationships with people and forsaken love in order to accumulate more wealth.

When we become trapped by greed and the desire for more material possessions, we can lose sight of the connections with others that actually give meaning to life. The search for gratification through wealth and status becomes a never-ending cycle of craving and acquiring because material goods don’t really fill the emptiness inside.

We are designed to be in relationship to others and many of the dire issues facing our world at this time can only be solved when we work together in collaboration. But other studies have shown that greed is on the rise throughout all economic levels of society and this can only lead to more problems.

In the future the Berkeley research team plans to investigate ways to change this pattern of greed and selfishness. They propose that perhaps economics courses in college should be paired with ethics courses to teach students more empathy while they are learning about the path to financial success.

But the real solution to the problem of greed in our society lies in advancing our level of spiritual consciousness. This is true because more highly enlightened individuals are able to maintain their concern for the welfare of others and recognize the importance of caring for all levels of society, regardless of their own wealth or status.

And the path to spiritual growth often appears during times of suffering, which the wealthy may be able to avoid up until the last days of life. But the message must become clear to everyone if we are to survive into the future: the way out of our difficulties is to discover what really matters about life here on this planet.

What I have come to understand is that learning to give and receive love is what matters most of all and what will help us advance our spiritual awareness. Following the path of love will lead us to discover other spiritual lessons that can eventually save us from self-destruction. But we have a long way to go and time is short, so let’s get started, shall we?

Categories: Current Events, Spirituality, End-of-Life

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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