The Intensity Of Wealth

August 2008

The Intensity Of Wealth - By Gary S. Shunk , Megan Wells - 08/4/2008

Getting rich is the American dream. Living rich has become a reality for a rising percentage of Americans. But for those who have achieved this dream, there are unanticipated consequences. And for those who inherit wealth, these consequences increase in complexity as they are passed forward through the generations.

These can lead to conflicts that undermine the advisor/client relationship. So how can an advisor enhance his insight to transform conflict into success?

Let's play a mental game for a moment and actually ask why getting rich is the American dream. What exactly do we dream?

Wealth is imagined as affording freedom. Wealthy people are judged as free from the financial struggles most have to deal with, in the form of mortgages, education, health care and retirement. Americans also dream that getting rich will bring personal as well as public power. If we are really think about this mental game, we'll notice that the fantasy of wealth has an irrational halo. As if wealth will free us from the curses of being human and grant health, beauty, wisdom and love.

The fact is, wealth does not bring freedom. Wealth brings intensity.

Intensity is an increase in degree, strength or concentration. The word comes from the Latin intensus, which means stretched tightly, or strained. In order to illuminate the difference between freedom and intensity, let's use our imaginations.

Picture a human being as a balloon. Our dream of wealth as freedom lifts our balloon high above the field of human suffering. The breeze is gentle; the balloon sails gracefully, undisturbed among the birds and over the beautiful trees.

If we imagine wealth as intensity, we see the balloon differently. The helium-filled interior is stretched to capacity, making the skin vulnerable to explosion. The breeze may be gentle, the trees and birds beautiful, but because of the stress within the balloon, these external events are now potential threats.

The balloon may be free, but the intense pressure profoundly alters the situation.

This shift in imagination changes how an advisor works with a client in two important ways: The advisor gains insight into her own expectations toward the wealthy client and she listens with deeper, more patient empathy.

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