The Importance of Empathy

You’re reading this blog. You’ve already bought and read The Old Money Book. You’ve embraced the values, priorities, and habits that are presented in it, and you’re living the Old Money life. And now, a short time later, you either begin or continue to prosper as a result. Maybe you even experience a financial windfall and your circumstances change overnight.

What’s the biggest danger you may face? Not remembering or realizing that not everyone has been as fortunate as you. Psychologists will tell you that after two or three years of making $300,000 a year or more, a person will begin to forget what life is like for those who aren’t has financially successful.

I hear it every day. At a party, where an heiress, oblivious to much of what transpires outside her Rich-Kids-of-Instagram life, casually invites a new acquaintance to go to Barbados with her and several girlfriends for a week.

“I can’t,” replies the young lady, a little shocked and embarrassed.

“Why not? It’ll be fun,” countered the high-net-worth-low-IQ woman.

“Because I have to go to work on Monday.”

The realization that someone in the world actually works was, sadly, a shock to the little princess. Which is embarrassing for her, not for the girl who was actually working for a living.

Not only can you never be condescending to someone else, you have to endeavor to remain empathetic to everyone else. We have to put our judgments of others on hold because we don’t know enough about them to judge them. We have to be patient with others just as our parents (and perhaps our God) remain patient with us.  We can try to, as the old saying goes, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

In practical terms, how do we do this? It’s simple.

First, be polite to everybody. Acknowledge everybody. (Okay, when you step on the bus, train, or subway, maybe not everybody.) Smile. Offer your seat to a woman or the elderly. Hold a door open. It’s a little thing. It costs nothing. So what if you’re late for a meeting and somebody asks you why and you say, “I was helping an older gentlemen with his groceries.” Do you think that meeting is going to go well for you? I do.

Second, ask people how they’re doing. They may tell you things about themselves that you never dreamed could be true. Ignore they way they’re dressed, how wealthy or impoverished they appear. They have a unique story that may take you down a notch and make you feel even more grateful for your situation. Or they may be much more than you ever expected, making you feel like an idiot for making a quick assessment based on their appearance.

Third, offer to help. Give to a charity, obviously. But if you can help someone, person to person, do it. Selfishly, you’ll generate beta-endorphins, which make you feel good and promote health. But beyond that, you’ll experience on the most primal level what it is to be human: to share with someone who may be having a challenging moment. It is the only way to experience true wealth.

Empathy is not sympathy. It is understanding on a personal, emotional level. It is the opposite of distance, of disconnect, of social class distinctions, of us-versus-them thinking.

Think about it. Practice it. Maintain it.



8 thoughts on “The Importance of Empathy

  1. Excellent post, Byron. Just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re better than anybody else, it just means you’re luckier. And even if you got your money through your hard work, talent, skill and drive, I maintain that in every case there is at least a little luck involved. Its important not to become insulated. Stay in the real world, interact with all kinds of people, and treat everyone with respect and courtesy. Stay humble; you’re just a guy or gal who’s had a bit of luck.

    1. You’re absolutely right. The really modest, down-to-earth people who’ve been successful will always acknowledge the role of luck. Thanks. BGT

  2. Theodore Roosevelt wrote “Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart… and shows itself in deeds.” We ought to be grateful for what we have (the fruits of good fortune and hard work), conduct ourselves with grace and humility, and do what we can to help those who are less fortunate. That is the calling of any great society.
    I am also reminded of another piece of advice on the subject of empathy: a person who treats others as if they were the dirt on the bottom of her shoe has not risen far from the ground herself.
    Another well written and insightful piece, Mr. Tully.

  3. This is an excellent point. I was always taught to be gracious to everyone. You never know what type of battle someone is fighting by just looking at them.

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