If people are highly successful in their professions they lose their senses. Sight goes. They have no time to look at pictures. Sound goes. They have no time to listen to music. Speech goes. They have no time for conversation. They lose their sense of proportion--the relations between one thing and another. Humanity goes.
Woolf's insight supports research from as early as 1925. Indeed, you can generalize from Freud's comment in "Those wrecked by success" that the highly successful occasionally fall ill precisely when a deeply-rooted and long-cherished wish has come to fulfillment. That "illness" is highly prohibitive, and can lead to the loss of senses and proportion.
There's a terrific amount of research clarifying the notion that wealth leads to selfishness. Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner of Berkeley ran several studies looking at whether wealth and prestige influences how much we care for others. In one study they discreetly boserved the behavior of drivers at a busy four-way interestection. The results were revealing: they found that luxury car drivers were more likely to cut off other motorists rather than waiting for their turn. This was . . .
There's also a terrific amount of research revealing that the rich lack interest in anyone who can't help them. Daniel Goleman writes that "while the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the tme you get hme from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations--with those of the same strata, and the more powerful--than the rich are, because they have to be."
In an analysis of how wealth reduces compassion, Scientific American summarizes the issue this way: Given the growing income inequality in the United States, the relationship between wealth and compassion has important implications. Those who hold most of the power in this country, political and otherwise, tend to come from privileged backgrounds. If social class influences how much we care about others, then the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor. They may also be the most likely to engage in unethical behavior. Keltner and Piff recently speculated in the New York Times about how their research helps explain why Goldman Sachs and other high-powered financial corporations are breeding grounds for greedy behavior. Although greed is a universal human emotion, it may have the strongest pull over those of who already have the most.
As a consultant who has worked with senior execs for years, many of whom are very rich, I've been surprised and delighted to meet great numbers who are empathetic, who do work to support the underclass and are ultimately very compassionate. But sadly, I've met plenty who typify Virginia Woolf's comments and this research. At the extremes, there are Buffett and the Gates. But there are also the Koch brothers and the politicians who rave about deadbeats and the so-called pathologies of the weak.
Flickr photo: hapyday