Two proverbs I find of interest

A definition of a proverb that I find most telling is “a simple and concrete saying.” If we could be so communicative every day on matters of import, what a more wonderful place it would be. While we have English, Chinese, Italian, Greek, American et al proverbs, I wanted to pull a couple from Proverbs in the bible that resonate with me.

From Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

I have often said that God gave us a brain, which in and of itself is a miracle. To not use it, would be a waste of a glorious resource and would dishonor Him. King Solomon, who is known for his wisdom, uttered the quoted proverb above. He said “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” People pray for a miracle, but often they have the ability to take steps to solve their own problems, if they thought about it more. In fact, I would suggest we pray that God give me the wisdom to determine for myself what needs to be done. And, if I cannot do so myself, I should pray for wisdom to find good help.

Some religions do not want to use current doctors or medicines to cure their family members. To my way of thinking, this is an insult to God, as the miracle you are praying for to cure your loved one may be the one standing in front of you wearing the doctor’s clothes and holding the iPad. I am truly saddened when I see a young person die because they are denied help based on a religious belief. Modern medicine is a miracle and we should use it judiciously at the hands of a capable doctor.

From Proverbs 8:11 – “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all things one may desire, cannot be compared with her.”

I like this quote as well, as God is instructing us to value wisdom more than personal possessions. He is encouraging us to become learned and cherish our wisdom. Coupling these two quotes together to me says, continue to seek instruction to gain wisdom and value it once obtained. I mention this, as in our country, we have an ultra-conservative group of people who are not valuing science like they should. The reason is it is conflict with our limited understanding of what the bible is telling us. When data flies directly in the face of what the bible is telling us, it does not mean the science is wrong, it means when the bible was written by men, they did not have the advanced knowledge of science we have today. In the Jewish faith, one of the reasons shellfish and pork are unclean as people were dying from the spoiled or bacteria infested meat for medical reasons, not biblical ones.

My point is we should not substitute what exists in the bible for science, no more than we should substitute science for a person’s faith. We believe because we do. I personally recognize a number of inconsistencies, but I also hold true to the good that is represented in the bible. But, before people jump all over me about the bible being a strict interpretation of God’s word and will, I would ask a simple question – have you really read all of the bible? Including the parts the ministers don’t talk much about. There is an old saying “if you want to create an Atheist, have them read the bible.” There was actually a study done a couple of years ago by Pew Research and Atheists knew the bible better than Christians.

With that said, I would add that Atheists also know the bible differently. There are many things therein which are more parable than fact. Jesus often taught us using parables. Further, the bible was written, translated and rewritten several times by men, who even if divinely inspired, were imperfect men. They were also men, so their biases are reflected therein. There are many good teachings in the bible, just as there are a few things that are not as applicable anymore. God gave us a wonderful brain and we should use it to the best of our abilities. He did so as He wants us to think for ourselves. We have done and can do so many wonderful things to help people and advance our lives. Let’s pray we use our wisdom for the greater good. And, let’s treat others like we want to be treated.

That is what I believe. I would welcome your thoughts and impressions.

The psychology of wealth can make you less compassionate

This title may seem strange, but it is based on a study completed by the University of California at Berkeley and University of Toronto. The folks who scoff at this title and study authors would also be the ones who would say “what would you expect from a study done in UC-Berkeley.” Yet, the principal author Paul Piff, noted in the LA Times “I regularly hear the Berkeley idiot scientist who’s finding what they expect to find. Let me tell you, we didn’t expect to find this. Our findings apply to both liberals and conservatives. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re wealthy, you’re more likely to show these patterns of results.” Piff was interviewed along with Dr. Dacher Keltner on a PBS Newshour story by Paul Solman last month called “Exploring the Psychology of Wealth, ‘Pernicious’ Effects of Economic Inequality” which can be found with this link http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june13/makingsense_06-21.html.

The study concluded that people with wealth, whether it was real wealth or created in a game format, showed rather conclusively a higher propensity to have a sense of entitlement to get more than their fair share. It is not saying that every wealthy person would act this way and there are many exceptions, yet there was clear evidence to show a propensity to use their position to cut corners and gain further advantage. It also noted there tended to be a higher degree of compassion and fairness by those with less for others in similar or worse circumstances. In other words, it was harder for those who “have” to walk in the shoes of the “have-nots.”

I observe this often in trying to explain the needs of homeless or impoverished people. No matter how hard I try, there are audiences who can not be dissuaded from their pre-conceived notion that homeless or impoverished people are not deserving of help and that they should just get a job. This is one reason I always emphasize that 84% of the homeless families, an agency I work with helps, have jobs. We are also seeing it manifest in the United States with the increasing divide in wealth between those with and without and the decline in economic class mobility.

But, don’t take my word for it. I would encourage you to click on the link above and judge for yourself. The aforementioned study observed the following in multiple tests:

– At a four-way intersection, drivers of the priciest cars were 4 times more likely to fail to correctly yield the right of way than other drivers;

– In a waiting room with a jar of candy where the participants were all told the candy was being saved for a children’s meeting soon following, the wealthier participants took candy from the jar 2 times more frequently than non-wealthy participants;

– In a dice game to add up the results of dice rolls, with the person with largest dice tally winning $50, the wealthier participants were 4 times more likely to cheat; and

– Similar results were also found on other exercises around reporting of incorrect change to a small financial transaction or getting an incorrect grade on an exam when the participant knew they earned less. The wealthier participants reported the infraction in their favor fewer times.

The study went further to show the results of a weighted Monopoly game. One person would get to roll two dice to the other’s one, the same person would also get $2,000 to the other person’s $1,000 and get to use the car game piece to the other person’s lesser token. What the study observed, the person in the game who had the most money and best opportunity to win, used directive comments that showed a sense of entitlement to their success. When the study flipped the weighting, the person who in real life was less affluent, but who now had the upper hand in the game, would also exhibit some of the same traits of entitlement.

The troubling part of the study, is people with wealth, whether real or contrived, exhibited a sense of entitlement to their wealth. It is the same reason when I wrote a few months ago that Warren Buffett said he was also “lucky” to be as wealthy, it bothered people. He said he worked hard, but he was born a white male in America, which gave him a leg up. By the way, Buffett is definitely one of the exceptions to the rule about compassion.

Yet, there is hope. Dr. Keltner, who heads the Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley noted: “One of the things that wealth and money does is it comes with a set of values, and if you want a deeper ideology, and one of them is, generosity is for suckers and greed is good. But it turns out, there are a lot of new data that show, if you’re generous, and charitable, and altruistic, you will live longer, you will feel more fulfilled, you will feel more expressive of who you are as a person. You probably will feel more control and freedom in your life.”

The above translates to business success, as well. In the highly acclaimed business book by Jim Collins called “Built to Last,” his team indicated that one of the reasons companies are much more successful than even their best competitors is called “Be more than profits.” These companies were terrific community citizens and invested their money and people’s time in needs of the community. As a result, people valued working there and the community was more supportive of the companies, in both good time and bad.

So, the key takeaways from this study to me are (1) do not let what you own define you, (2) do your best to understand what people in need go through – if you have not been there, you really don’t know what it’s like, (3) there is a huge psychic income to helping others and (4) doing the right thing can only be viewed in a good light. You will be on the “side of the angels.” Note, this post relied on several news articles in addition to the PBS Newshour piece mentioned above – LATimes,org, Dailycal.org and Highandernews.org.