My friend Amy lives in a little rental house in a very wealthy neighborhood. Recently a friend visited and as she entered Amy’s house said, “How can you stand to live in this neighborhood with all these rich people?”
Amy pointed to the pot of soup bubbling on the stove and the fresh loaf bread on the counter delivered by a visiting teacher who knew she’d had a busy day, “You have no idea the kindness we’ve received in this neighborhood.”
Over and over Amy’s neighbors have cared for her small children, offered to drive her carpool turn and just generally enveloped her little family with love. “Not once “Amy said “have I experienced a single shred of snobbery from any of these people.”
The same day, I was walking with a group of friends when one woman commented on a neighbor renovating their backyard: a new playset, a swimming pool and extensive landscaping. “It’s simply obscene,” one woman said, “to spend that much money on their yard. Think of all the good it could do elsewhere.”
“Think of all the good it’s doing right there!” I replied.
“What,” queried my friend, “you mean family unity and such?”
“Yes, but even more so, look at all the people earning an honest wage– and it’s not just the men and women working in the backyard. Every tree and bush comes from a greenhouse, every bolt and piece of wood in the playhouse comes from a manufacturer, think of all the salesmen and inventors and laborers benefiting from the pool installation.”
Because my husband works in a frozen dough factory, I’m familiar with the countless people who benefit every time you buy a loaf of bread: the bag boy, the checker, the store manager, the salesmen, the truck drivers (the gas station attendant), every person working at the factory, the hundred of businesses with their own sales force and factories who supply flour, yeast, bags, boxes, more machines and robots than you can possibly imagine. Truly, every time you buy just about anything, you are helping hundreds, if not thousands of people put food on their own table.
It’s funny, everyone seems to want money, but they despise people who actually have it (unless you’re a movie star or pro athlete– then it’s OK). Especially in the Mormon culture, poverty is seen as a virtue; wealth, a sin. But I think we need to change our attitude. Medical schools, dental schools and graduate programs recruit Mormons by the thousands. Why? Because statistically, Mormons have less problems with alcohol, drug abuse and extra marital affairs. And all those highly paid professionals do wonders for the church– more tithing, more missionaries, more temples, more humanitarian aid.
I’m sure you’ve heard stories of wealthy Mormons donating large tracks of land to the church and even writing checks for an entire temple. I think it’s fabulous. And yes, those people might be putting a swimming pool in the backyard too. Money doesn’t do much good when it’s just stashed away; it’s better to spread it out and let many many people benefit.
Charitable giving will always be important, especially during times of personal and community disaster– food, clothing, shelter, medical and emotional care should be given freely. But in the long term people are always happier when they can provide for themselves and their families.
Of course, wealth does not righteousness. I know many good honest people who have struggled financially and I’m sure there are many wealthy people who have stomped on others to earn their fortune. We can’t judge either way. Honestly, I’ve heard about snobby rich people (and I’m sure they exist), but I don’t know any (of course, I try to choose my friends wisely). I actually think snobbery from the less wealthy is much more common. My friend Jeff told me about a man (let’s call him Alan) in his ward who makes snide comments to Jeff every time he sees him because he perceives Jeff to be wealthy. Little does Alan know, Jeff is the anonymous donor who contributes $400 each month for Alan’s missionary son.
I love Elder Holland’s thoughts from April 2012 General Conference:
Brothers and sisters, there are going to be times in our lives when someone else gets an unexpected blessing or receives some special recognition. May I plead with us not to be hurt—and certainly not to feel envious—when good fortune comes to another person? We are not diminished when someone else is added upon. We are not in a race against each other to see who is the wealthiest or the most talented or the most beautiful or even the most blessed. The race we are really in is the race against sin, and surely envy is one of the most universal of those.
Furthermore, envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!
We all choose to use our time, talents and money differently; none of us can accurately judge the choices of those around us. Life is unfair, but it’s unfair in our favor. God gives each of us life and breath and the astonishing gift of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Are we not all beggars?