Monday, November 19, 2012

Less Human

Earlier today I saw an Independent Lens documentary called Park Avenue: Wealth, Power & the American Dream, which examines how the stark gap between rich and poor has developed. Paul Piff, a social psychologist at UC-Berkley, who studies, among other things, the psychology of social class and the social effects of rank and class, spoke of how one's level of wealth shapes the way in which you see the world and interact with those around you. 

We like to think that in America, anyone has a chance of doing great things, or at least has the possibility of being successful (however you want to define that), but in actuality it's more complicated than that. If your family hasn't historically had access to education, if they don't know what an education can do for you, if they're so poor that they can't afford to feed or clothe you well, your perspective is skewed; you're more concerned with acquiring the basics. You're less likely to obtain a job that pays you well enough to live a comfortable life (although external factors can affect that; and one can make a very good living doing mechanical or technical work that doesn't require further education); abject poverty affects a child's ability to do well in school from an early age if they're hungry or tired or live with a family who faces much deeper stressors than those who are financially comfortable and don't face these things. 

"How Money Makes People Act Less Human," an article published in New York Magazine in July, was referenced in the film, and it included research that led to the following conclusion:

"Public-health research has long shown that poverty can have devastating effects on the brain. At 3 years old, poor kids have vocabularies that are three times smaller than their better-off peers. Their memories do not work as well. In poor children, executive function is not as developed as it is in more affluent children, which means they have a harder time sorting and organizing information, planning ahead, and coping in the event of changed circumstances...The corrollaries to this poverty work are potentially explosive: Wealth may give you a better brain. It may make you a more strategic thinker, a savvier planner."

I've met a few wealthy people; most did not seem to be especially interested in those whose backgrounds were different, or those whose circumstances were extraordinarily worse than theirs; many seemed to be deeply conscious of social class, and felt it necessary for there to be a separation between them and those whose earning power was significantly less. (One mentioned that people who couldn't afford to go to college shouldn't go, which, of course, would eliminate nearly everyone.) 

Money really does make a difference in making sure that our children have a good foundation that can lead them to comfortable lives. There's the danger of not thinking of those who have less, especially if one grew up always having more.

(There's so much more I could say about this, and I would like to, but I could not do so without getting into details that, really, are not mine to share. I've only ever seen large amounts of money negatively affect people, and I'm sure that's not always true, but I'm having a hard time believing that it's possible.) 

No comments:

Post a Comment