by Jack Bragen

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ommon decency and kindness — versus cruelty and meanness — seem to occur at about the same rates across all demographics. I have dealt with mean and kind people wherever I’ve gone, and this seems unrelated to how much money someone has, how successful, or how intelligent.
Having more money is preferable to not having enough. However, sometimes leading “the good life” and taking for granted that you can purchase any material thing that’s needed, can have a negative effect on people. When someone gains wealth or is born into it, their set of concerns may change from that of meeting basic needs, to frivolous concerns about status. In contrast, poor people may not have the luxury of being concerned about things unrelated to survival.
The wealthy are often preoccupied with social stature. They may become envious and resentful when someone flaunts more “toys” or “status symbols” than they. They may be highly sensitized to possible insults.
A wealthy person is often preoccupied with perceived dignity, while a poor person is preoccupied with having adequate food and decent housing, filling the gas tank in their used car, and getting adequate medical attention when ill.
I speak from personal experience, after long years of witnessing the differing behaviors and attitudes of the rich and the poor. The following comparisons between wealthy and low-income people may sound like generalizations, yet they are all based on my personal observations.
Wealthy people are often hard-nosed toward people less fortunate or toward those in a subordinate position. It is often by having a mean edge that they have accumulated their wealth and their position in the first place. Wealthy people tend to be very territorial.
Rich people are upset when there is a scratch on their new Jaguar. Poor people are upset when they are stranded because they missed the last bus for the night.
Rich people won’t give you anything for free, unless something is in it for them, while poor people will help you when they can.
Rich people can afford to buy the latest home security system to protect their valuables, while poor people are protected through having nothing worth stealing.
Rich people may consume alcohol or recreational drugs, while stereotyping the poor as always being “druggies.”
Rich people may get clogged arteries from a fat-laden, luxurious diet, and then they get bypass surgery. Poor people eat off the “dollar menu” or in soup kitchens and then die of a massive heart attack because of untreated arteriosclerosis.
Rich people are, on occasion, victims of home-invasion robberies, while poor people receive eviction notices or have their homes searched by police with German Shepherds.

In San Francisco, two men in business suits pass silently by a homeless man lying in a doorway. Every day in America, the rich and the poor encounter one another on the same streets, yet they live in very different worlds. Photo by Dong Lin

Rich people often display classism, the disdain of those from a less fortunate socioeconomic background. Poor people may display reverse classism, a disdain and contempt toward those who have more.
This may be a bit off-subject, but why is it that when rich people are billions of dollars in debt and owe far more than their assets, they are still in a more advantageous position compared to someone who is penniless but doesn’t owe anything?
A good example is Donald Trump. According to his book, How to Get Rich, at one point he owed 9.2 billion dollars after the real estate market crashed. Trump said that on the day he passed by “a beggar” on his way to speak with bankers, he realized that the beggar was worth $9 billion more than he. Yet, where is that “beggar” now?
Trump was able to cash in on his name and went on television, and bounced back quite handily, which is what he had prophesied. If you’re not a member of the wealthy elite, you don’t get member benefits.
Poor people also can sniff out someone who doesn’t belong. The poor are expected by one another to abide by their own version of social norms. The specifics are different than with rich people, but it is the same idea. Either you fit in or you don’t.
Poor people are usually preoccupied with survival issues, with getting through the month, with fulfilling the bureaucratic requirements of various public benefits, and with merely staying alive. However, rich people are concerned with their public image, with their social status, and with gaining more wealth.
Being financially secure does not make a person evil, nor does it mean someone lacks conscience. However, when survival issues have been solved, the little things that were previously on the back burner, the seemingly inconsequential concerns, are magnified and can sometimes create arrogance.