Wealth gaps pull families, friends apart

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 2:00 p.m. MST

Income inequality is widely acknowledged as a national economic strain, but it's less frequently discussed as a threat to strong families and healthy friendships. This article from The Daily Beast by psychotherapist Janna Malamud Smith looks at the dangers of feeling financially out of step with those closest to us.

Income inequality isn't just bad for our economic health. It's bad for our mental health. Working for decades as a psychotherapist has accustomed me to listening closely. And — in and outside the office — I've lately been hearing painful stories told about how families, friendship circles, and neighborhoods are being strained by ever greater wealth differences among their members. Yes, some folks have always earned more than others, and people have always had greater or lesser luck and success. The small town in Vermont where I grew up for awhile had its local millionaire, and his children owned a trampoline and we didn't. But the situation now is different. As the rich have gotten massively richer, the emotional climate has deteriorated for all of us. People now routinely tell me about the impact on them of wealth gaps so yawning they threaten the bonds of affection and blood.

Some examples? A woman who could easily afford to pay the college tuition for much less well off nieces and nephews, doesn't. She feels she's worked harder than the others, and resents being put in the position of seeming selfish. Meanwhile, the rest of the family resents her turning her back ... A man sells the beloved family property because he's tired of maintaining it alone — though it breaks the hearts of his kin who cannot pay what would be their fair share, and who consequently have no say in the decision. A brother, guilty that he had better educational opportunities than his siblings, repeatedly pays off his sister's credit card debt — even as he dislikes the way she implies that he owes her. A businessman jets half a dozen neighbors to his home in a warm climate to give them a vacation they cannot afford; he feels beneficent. While grateful, they feel small and weird. Kind of like they've just received charity from a feudal lord.

Read more about income inequality on The Daily Beast.

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