Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Loaded Query

Oblique and often innocent questions can reveal character traits that I have found useful in my fiction. I ask the following question often since it reveals the level of a person’s expectations.

What is your number?

This means what is your comfort zone in terms of your net worth. I have asked this question of people of all economic categories from the very poor to the super rich. Obviously those with the least net worth answer that their level of satisfaction would be a million dollars in liquid assets.

As we ride up the scale, most people think five million is more than adequate. Sophisticated and well-off people who have reached the five to ten million mark will set their comfort zone between fifteen and twenty million.

A large category places the comfort level at 25 million, but this answer comes from people who have attained that figure. Of course, for many people to whom I have posed this question, their answer has been “The sky’s the limit.”

Usually they follow this up by saying that extreme wealth is more a report card of achievement than a comfort zone. Some tell me that acquiring wealth is merely a game or that they enjoy the process of giving their money away, which they call “giving back.”

To many the process of “giving back” gives them a high from being honored and butt kissed by the recipients of their largesse. They never will admit this. Nor will they ever admit that having extreme wealth gives them perks and power and the ability to buy bigger and better toys.

I have not found any difference in their level of happiness or self-worth. Indeed, many of my super wealthy friends and acquaintances have just as many psychological problems as those who have a lot less.

I have also found less envy of the super rich by the less than rich, although the very poor are naturally angry with their circumstances and vocal about the inequality.

What do you think?

Warren Adler is the author of 30 novels, including The War of the Roses and his latest, Funny Boys.


Anonymous said...

I would be interested in how many people said a number that was less than they already had. My number is exactly the same as I need to survive right now, anything else is a surplus which I am free to give away or give back to the world. But then again I have never believed that wealth is a marker or measure of anything but predatory greed or pitiful insecurity.

Warren Adler said...

Great comment. Thanks!