By Judy M McCutcheon MBA
A friend and I were discussing the changes people go through when they come into money, whether it is through marriage, an inheritance, or a windfall. She insisted that people’s behaviours do not change, but that their true personality comes out. I don’t know if we all want to be wealthy, but I am sure that most of us want to live at a certain level of comfort. So, does money change who we are fundamentally, or does it simply change the way we think and behave?
The word ‘Affluenza’ is a blend of 2 words — affluence and influenza and it is ‘A social theory claiming that individuals with very privileged and wealthy backgrounds, sometimes struggle to determine the difference between right and wrong due to the nature of their upbringing.’ Interestingly, this was used as a defence in a drunk driving case in Texas, where a 16-year-old boy argued that his family wealth should exempt him from the responsibility of the deaths of 4 people. The defence argued that the boy suffered from affluenza and therefore could not understand the full consequences of his actions. What is even more shocking is that he was only given a 10-year probation and therapy. Maybe the rich do live by different rules.
Whether you suffer from affluenza like the 16-year-old drunk driver or you win the lottery, it appears that money changes something. For one thing, when you win the lottery you find out that you have relatives that you never even knew existed. While I don’t think that money changes who you are at the core, I believe that it does have a profound effect on how you think and act towards others. Cutting off someone in traffic with your luxury vehicle or walking to the front of the line demanding immediate attention, or taking more than what is offered, demonstrates that when you have money you are more likely to engage in unprincipled behaviour. And it’s not just in films such as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ that money brings out the darker side of our nature, but wealth and the pursuit of it have been shown to be linked to immoral behaviour. The wealthy see themselves as operating by a different set of rules, it’s almost as if they have an entitlement to a different set of rules from everyone else. Just look at all the various Ponzi schemes that have landed several people in jail, some of them in our own backyard. This shows the length people would go in their relentless pursuit of money. I think it brings out a side of us that maybe we didn’t even know existed.
Some of the studies that were conducted show that wealth impacts many areas of our lives in significant ways. How we value our time and effort — our social and business value. We measure our time based on the amount of money we are likely to gain by giving up our time, money then becomes a motivator in determining value for time. Your self-view, and how the size of your pay cheque can significantly affect the way you view yourself in relation to others. In one study, wealthy people thought that life was fair and that people generally get what they deserved. Your ethics can become severely compromised, wealthy people are more likely to suffer from the ‘What’s In It For Me’ (WII-FM) attitude and act more out of self-interest and work towards the most benefit for themselves. The study also pointed to the fact that people who are money conscious tend to be more self-sufficient than people who are not. An obsession with money can become a serious addiction for some people. They get a ‘high’ from obtaining money. And while it is not an addiction to a chemical substance, it is an addiction all the same — gambling for instance. This relentless preoccupation with money can have disastrous effects on all your relationships.
Ultimately, how you came into the wealth is immaterial, what matters most is that you become mindful of the fact that money does have an effect on you and sometimes that effect is intrinsically negative. What is important is that you become cognisant of the downsides that wealth can have on your personality and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. No amount of money can change your genetics, your history, nor your penchant for hard work. Always be true to yourself, remember your morals and your values and you will remain grounded no matter how much money you have.
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Judy McCutcheon is a partner in the firm Go Blue Inc, a Human Development Company. www.goblueinc.net