The financial downturn has made it tougher to give. Many of us are losing jobs, accepting underemployment, or remaining in sub-optimal work environments. It is very hard to give generously and joyfully when you feel financially stressed and pinched yourself.
So now might be a good time to evaluate the true status of our wealth.
The terms “rich” and “poor” are relative—that is, “rich” or “poor” compared to whom? For example, most people with at least an undergraduate degree work with and live around others of a similar education level, so it becomes natural to feel that “I’m middle-class.” Or, we compare ourselves with successful college friends or colleagues who got promotions—and then we feel poor.
Even the top 1% of wage earners are beginning to feel financially victimized. As Paul Krugman sarcastically observed in a recent NYT editorial,
It has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.”
Perhaps all this can be traced back to a failure of perspective. What if we compared ourselves not only to the guy who just bought the impressive new car, but to all of God’s children, everywhere? Looking at it this way, an average twenty-three year old college graduate’s first job will immediately place him or her in the top ONE PERCENT of the richest people on the planet. Try it for yourself here and see how you stack up. I know that for me, reality checks like these help me feel just a little more grateful, and give just a little more generously.