A friend alerted me to a fascinating piece posted at The Cut, a New York magazine website for "women with stylish minds." (Needless to say, it's not the sort of site I typically visit.)
The article is an interview with one of America's wealthiest women: Abigail Disney, an heiress to the Disney family fortune.
I don't know anything about her spiritual outlook (she describes herself as "a kind of a lefty, New York City, Manhattan, pointy-headed intellectual type"), but she speaks insightfully about how having an abundance of money tends to turn wealthy people inward.
Did you have a moment in your life when things started getting lavish and you realized, “Oh, I’m super rich”?
When I went off to college, Michael Eisner came in and reinvigorated the [Walt Dinsey] company, and then the stock price, which was basically my family’s entire net worth, was ten times, 20 times, 50 times what it had been when I was growing up. So all of the sudden, we went from being comfortable, upper-middle-class people to suddenly my dad [Disney executive Roy E. Disney] had a private jet. That’s when I feel that my dad really lost his way in life. And that’s why I feel hyperconscious about what wealth does to people. I lived in one family as a child, and then I didn’t even recognize the family as I got older.
In what ways did your dad change, other than having a jet?
Actually, having a jet is a really big deal. If I were queen of the world, I would pass a law against private jets, because they enable you to get around a certain reality. You don’t have to go through an airport terminal, you don’t have to interact, you don’t have to be patient, you don’t have to be uncomfortable. These are the things that remind us we’re human. My dad’s plane was a 737, and it was insane to have a 737 as a private airplane....
How did the jet change your dad?
It wasn’t just the plane, but it’s not a small thing when you don’t have to be patient or be around other people. It creates this notion that you’re a little bit better than they are. And for the past 40 years, everything in American culture has been reinforcing that belief. We say, “Job creators, entrepreneurs, these are the people who make America great.” So there are people walking around with substantial wealth who think that they have it because they’re better.
It’s fundamental to remember that you’re just a member of the human race, like everybody else, and there’s nothing about your money that makes you better than anyone else. If you don’t know that and you have money, it’s the road to hell, no matter how much stuff you have around you....
They did a study at the Chronicle of Philanthropy years ago where they asked people who inherited money, “What amount of money would you need to feel totally secure?” And every single one of them, no matter what they had, named a number that was roughly twice what they inherited. So that’s what you need to know about money, right? If that is your primary measure of success or value in life, then good luck with that, because it will never feel good.
The full interview is posted here (language warning).
Wealth and discipleship
Most of us won't ever have a private jet or come close to having the kind of financial wealth Abigail Disney has. Yet by historical standards, and even compared to millions of people in the world today, you and I are wealthy indeed.
So Scripture's teachings on wealth (both its positive guidance and its warnings) are for us, not just for the "super-rich." Here is just a sampling:
- "Praise be to you, LORD...for everything in heaven and earth is yours." (1 Chronicles 29:10a, 11b, emphasis added)
- "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income." (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
- "Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce." (Proverbs 3:9 NLT)
- [Jesus] said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:15)
- "[G]odliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." (1 Timothy 6:6-7)
The Bible is clear that wealth is a blessing (Deuteronomy 8:18), but we must be on our guard, always seeking to steward that blessing in such a way that wealth doesn't undermine our spiritual well-being — or that of our children and grandchildren. (Our May issue will have more on this topic.)
Can you recall a particular time in your life when you had to struggle to keep wealth from turning you inward, away from God and from others? Tell us about it, in general terms, in the comments section below.