The psychology of wealth can make you less compassionate – a reprise about an interesting study

After being reminded of this study in a comment on my last post, I decided to republish a post from 2013. I found it fascinating reading about the comparative psychology of the haves and have-nots.

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.

Interviewers – please listen to the responses

I have written a variation of the post on a number of occasions. One of my pet peeves is interviewers who ask a question, then proceed to talk over the response of the guest. This happens often on Fox’s night time shows in that Roger Ailes wanted his interviewers to beat up certain guests. Yet, it is not restricted to Fox, MSNBC, etc. This practice is done by more than a few news oriented talk shows.

It becomes more frustrating when a guest is on who actually is more expert or researched in a particular area. To hear a less informed talk show host talk over a more learned guest is poor form. To Bill Maher’s credit, he has a number of guests from various walks of life and different points of view. Yet, I consistently get frustrated when he interrupts a very good point, just because he may not like the answer.

Gayle King of “CBS Morning News” is in the same boat as Maher. On occasion, she can be a good interviewer, yet more often, she has to interrupt the guest. Joy Behar on “The View” is of the same ilk. Behar, like King or Maher, will have some good points, but she will interject them to sideline good conversation on too many occasions.

I also like “60 Minutes,” but quite often the interviewer will provide the answer in the question. This leaves the respondent the duty to just agree with what was said. John Oliver did a wonderfully funny piece where he showed about two dozen “60 Minutes” interviewers answering their own questions. When piled on top of each other, it is just plain funny.

Jim Lehrer, of “PBS Newshour” fame, passed away a few weeks ago. He was known for not making the interviewer the story. Ask the questions and let the response occur was a mantra of his. But, listen to the response, as the next question may not be the one you planned to ask.

The Lehrer example reminds me of a philosophy I had when I coached Little League baseball. Make sure the kids knew what to do, then shut up and sit on your hands in the dugout and let them play. Let the answers come and listen and watch. The watching is important as a person’s body language may give away uneasiness over an answer. Carter Page, who was caught up in the Russia investigation, was on PBS Newshour a couple of times. It became obvious that he was not as forthcoming with the truth as he should have been.

I have decided to reduce some stress in my life. So, rather than watch multiple news shows, I have pared back. If I watch “BBC World News America,” I will pass on “PBS Newshour.” I also am watching “CBS Morning News” less, as well as “Real time with Bill Maher.” And, if a good guest appears on “The View,” I may tune in.

So, interviewers please let the guests answer your questions. It will not make you less smart if you do. And, in the end, we all may learn something.

Let me leave you with a thought. ABC’s Good Morning America had the parent and step-parent on one morning when their daughter went missing. By letting them talk, it became apparent they were hiding something. As it turned out, the parents had killed the daughter (I will leave off other horrific details). I recognize this is an extreme example, but if people are allowed to speak, we may learn something, just maybe what they did not want us to know.

Kudos to Scotland

Last weekend on PBS Newshour, a two-part series called “Scotland is betting on tidal energy” was presented. Per the series, Scotland “is nearly 70% powered by renewable sources already, with the goal of reaching 100% by 2020, 10 years ahead of schedule.” Let that quote sink in a little – by 2020. Their focus has been on offshore wind energy, but the true wave of the future is tidal energy.

A project in the Pentland Firth is called MeyGen which includes three tidal wave turbines each with three thirty foot blades, the apparatus weighing 150 tons. The turbines provide a very predictable amount of energy powering over 1,000 homes each. “As the tide ebbs and flows, the turbines spin between 7 and 15 times a minute generating power to a wind turbine.”

Tim Cornelius, the CEO of SIMEC Atlantis said the tidal turbines have been expensive at first and have required half the cost to be subsidized by the Scottish government. But, he said the costs are coming down and after one year the cost of production is 50% of the year before. The turbines also build off existing technology used in the oil and gas energy, with cranes, ships and equipment to position a new turbine.

Scotland has been the leading edge implementer of these tidal turbines and others are taking notice. Cornelius says SIMEC plans to deploy 250 additional tidal turbines in the next several years. Other coastal countries are taking notice and creating their own pilots. The US is behind others, but will be investing in a testing facility off the Oregon coast.

As discovered with solar and onshore and offshore wind energy, the production costs decline over time so as to be more on par with fossils fuel production costs. But, in my view, when all costs are factored in – maintenance, litigation, environmental degradation, transportation, water loss and health – renewables are far cheaper than fossil fuel. For example, maintaining coal ash is a cost that never goes away.

While good things are happening with renewables in the US, we can all learn from countries like Scotland. We have a few cities like Burlington, VT, Georgetown, TX and Greensburg, KS which are 100% renewable energy powered. And, while California is a solar power and Texas a wind power champion, we have far more ways to go.

So, kudos to Scotland!

 

Oyster shells have a beneficial shelf life

Oysters have long been hailed to be an aphrodisiac. That may be the case, but their shells have been quite useful in protecting and recreating shoreline. They have a beneficial effect long after their alleged aphrodisiac influence. How so?

Per a PBS Newshour news report in June, rather than building a sea wall, there are several locations in Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, et al that are using mesh bagged oyster shells to stack in the water near the shores of bays, coves and inlets. They create an organic wall that facilitates the growth of marsh grasses between the land and barrier. Living organisms can be found in the water such as various crabs and fishes. The natural growth of the marsh grasses and collected mud is noticeable even after one year.

From a cost standpoint, one family noted the cost differential is significant. The oyster shells are 1/4 of the cost of the wall ($3,000 vs $12,000) on their property. Plus, the wall needs to be replaced at some point, while the oyster shells do not.The word has gotten out, so now there is a waiting list for the oyster shells in these areas.

Rebuilding the natural marshes and wetlands are tactics to combat the loss of shoreline due to climate change. These marshes provide a needed natural barrier or buffer as hurricanes hit land and offer oxygen to combat carbon build up.

Per a “Scientfic American” article in April, 2017, “Coastal wetlands are among the best marine ecosystems to fight climate change, new research confirms. A study published this week in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment compared the carbon sequestration potential of a handful of marine ecosystems and found that mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows have the greatest impact on climate change.”

This is another reason to order oysters on the half shell. But, ask the restaurant what they are doing with the shells. Make them aware of this terrific use if they are not. It is truly an organically utile idea, aphrodisiac or not.

 

 

Just a man with words

My favorite editorial offering each week is when conservative columnist David Brooks joins with liberal columnist Mark Shields on PBS Newsour. Each Friday, they say grace over the news events of the week.

Usually facilitated by Judy Woodruff, these two pundits offer context and civil discourse. It is obvious each has profound respect for the other, as even when they disagree, the rationale is supported by good observations.

It should not be a surprise that both are somewhat alarmed and bemused by our President. In fact, Brooks (along with fellow conservatives Michael Gerson, George Will and Charles Krauthammer) has been a recurring critic of the man who became our President.

Earlier in the year, Brooks described the White House under our new President as “equal parts incompetence and chaos.” This was just following the horribly crafted, vetted, communicated and executed travel ban that caused so much negative reaction.

Recently, after yet another week of bizarre statement and actions that the President’s people had to scurry to defend, he made another insulting reference to the President as being “just a man with words.” Taken in the context of the piece, the President is not a man of conviction and will say just about anything, often not with a lot of thought.

And, that is a sad state of affairs. George Will spoke of the unforced errors when the President just says or tweets things. Will said he has made the world more dangerous and hopes that when the 3 am calm comes with a real problem, they just let the President sleep and wake up Genetal Mattis.

Just a man with words. Unfortunately, many of them are not truthful or well thought out.

 

Just a thought

Where do you get your information? I ask this because our President seems to get his information from less than reliable sources and then criticizes more legitimate sources for disagreeing with him.

Here are a few questions to ask of your sources:

– if a source of information screams at his audience while his head is turning a very scary shade of red, he might not be a good source of information.
– if a source of information has such a raspy voice from shouting at the wind and name calls everyone who he deems appropriate, then he might not be a good source of information.
– if you get your information from Facebook or Twitter, you need to look carefully at sources cited and use the Twitter feed for headlines only to cause you to dig further on more legitimate sources.
– if you are getting your information from a source that must advertise they are fair and balanced to make up for their bias and inconsistent veracity, then you might want to consider another source for validation.
– if you are getting your information from the current President, stop because he is an unreliable source and has been most of his life.

I encourage you to check multiple sources. I am often asked where I get my information. Several places – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, Reuters, and The Guardian. I read articles from my browser feed which come from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, Time, etc. And, my local paper, The Charlotte Observee is a good source for local and state news.

A good sign a news source is reputable is they print errata or correct portions of stories that prove to be inaccurate. Admitting mistakes is a sign of intelligence.

I would also ask people who say inane things about their sources. Our President cites a couple of sources that are known for making things up or creating conspiracies. He even put one on the White House. And, he has actually appeared on one where the host is on record that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, as an example of his lack of veracity.

Before someone claims fake news, he needs to make sure the things he is saying are legitimate whether it is about his electoral college landslide, voter fraud or unemployment or crime rates.

A few suggestions for a better 2017

As many blogs have highlighted, 2016 has been the most interesting of years. My biggest concerns go beyond any electoral issues. They are the decrease in civil discourse and the increase in fake news and misinformation.

On the lack of civil discourse, we must start listening to each other and not just to respond. We need to listen to understand the other’s point of view. We need to decrease the decibel level and the use of name-calling and labeling.

The louder people are and the more shortcuts they use by labels show their argument is poor. I personally find labels to be a lazy form of argument to dismiss the other’s point of view. I have been called a tree hugger for this purpose, but I usually counter that I am also a capitalist to make that person think a little more.

On the fake news and biased news sites, we must do a better job of labeling the veracity of these entities. If you are going to call yourself a news source, then you need to be doing what it takes to be right far more than you are wrong. And, you need to have an errata where corrections are made public. We must also do our part to understand the veracity of our news sources.

So, what can we do better in 2017? Treat others like we wanted to be treated would be a huge plus. Listen and provide feedback like you want to receive it. Also, know the following statements:

– neither political party has all the good ideas and both have some that are not so good or don’t factor in the holistic causes of the problem.

– political incorrectness does not give anyone license to lie or be a jerk. One can be candid without taking someone’s head off.

As for the fake news sites, be on your guard. If it reads like a tabloid, then that is a sure sign. If mainstream news is not covering an issue, but this source is, check out its veracity. If it says Sponsored Advertisement on it, that is opinion, not news. If you are getting your news from shock jock entertainers, that is opinion. Also, be guarded of Facebook forwarding of news and even blogs on this source (by the way, my site is not news and represent the opinions of its user).

These fake news creators are very good as they make a nice profit through advertisements. They can afford to be good at it. So, it does take effort and homework on our part.  I read a variety of sources, Reuters, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, news summaries and watch or listen to several others – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, some mainstream news, etc.

Our issues are hard enough without us debating over the facts. We must gain common ground, listening and asking questions. Otherwise, we will solve the wrong problem.

 

 

 

Life lessons from an astronaut

The other day, I saw Miles O’Brien of PBS Newshour interview astronaut Mike Massimino about his new book Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe.” What was moving about this interview is Massimino tells the story in his book how becoming an astronaut was not easy for him.

He notes he had to apply to be an astronaut four times before being given the opportunity. When O’Brien asked him what he would be doing had he not become an astronaut, he said “applying for a fifth time.” Here is a man who is still afraid of heights and cannot swim very well, yet he became one of the very few people who have ever flown in space. He saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and decided that is what he wanted to be and did not let his shortcomings stand in the way.

He also notes he had struggles all through training, which he highlights in the book. Here is his response to O’Brien about his question on dealing with his setbacks.

“I think you’re right, yes. It’s not a question of being the best at something or things coming easy to you, but it’s being a person that can work with others and not give up. And, for me, that was part of it too.

At every step of the way, when I had trouble, there were people that came in, in my life that helped me. It’s important to go seek help when you need it, and to give help when other people need it. And that is really more important than coming in with a gigantic brain into the astronaut program.”

To me, there is no better life lesson than what Massimino says in these two paragraphs. Just because someone is not the best at something or that things do not come easy to him (or her), does not mean he (or she) cannot be successful or achieve a goal. The second paragraph is telling as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The only price is to pay it forward and help others.

A link to the entire interview follows: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/setbacks-failures-shaped-improbable-astronaut/

In the quiet of the morning

My favorite time of day is the quiet of morning. As an early riser, thanks to taking kids to school for so many years, I enjoy the peace of reading the newspaper with a cup of hot coffee.

I read a great deal online, but I still prefer the feel of a newspaper in my hands. Even if I may have read a story online the day before, rereading lets it sink in more for digestion and understanding.

While I am closer to being a news junkie than not, it is important to consider the news and the sources. Not all news is created equal, so the veracity of the source and data cited is relevant. This a key reason I read, watch and listen to multiple sources.

For those who would prefer not to read the news, I would guide you to NPR, PBS Newshour or BBC World News. Al Jazeera is also good, but I get few chances to watch it. I am visiting my sister and she watched PBS with me last night. The stories are well reported and analyzed by people who are more expert in their field. They are also civil to one another and cover stories that are more relevant and less influenced by bias or conflict of interest.

I am blessed to have access to an excellent daily newspaper in The Charlotte Observer. They continue to do in-depth reporting on topics for which they win numerous awards. They just completed a four-part series on our regional future water crisis and have exposed the problems of overworked and understaffed medical examiners in our state which has led to change, e.g. Plus, I appreciate reading the editorials from a variety of vantage points, even if I don’t agree with everything or much of what the writer says.

So, I am thankful for this time to read and reflect. I feel I am a better citizen and person in being informed. How do you stay informed? What are your favorite times of the day?

Restorative Justice – a concept which makes a difference

Earlier this week, my wife and I were enthralled by a PBS Newshour report on a concept being deployed in a Colorado high school called “Restorative Justice.”  In essence, rather than suspend offenders from school, which does not resolve much of anything, the school counselors invite the offenders into a circle with their parents to discuss the conflict and various points of view. They pass around a “talking stick” which means only the person with the stick may share his or her points of view. The idea is the offenders hear the other person’s point of view, recognize how differences occur and begin a restorative process rather letting animosities fester.

The concept is straightforward, practical and replicable in many settings where conflict resolution is needed. The number of suspensions and fights have declined significantly in the Colorado high school comparing the numbers to previous year trends. Yet, the school is taking it a step further to teach the kids how to resolve conflict in a restorative circle. In other words, they are letting the kids resolve some conflicts and issues, as well as brainstorm ideas, etc. which are terrific skills to cultivate.

The news video can be accessed with the following link:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/new-approach-discipline-school/

A more detailed summary of the Restorative Justice concept can also be gleaned from the attached link to an Oakland high school, which includes some metrics and data around the demographic groups affected most by suspensions and how this approach has kept kids in school.

http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us/restorativejustice

We came away very impressed by these efforts and hope you will as well. I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts. Restorative Justice has a nice ring to it.