Dialogue with the Wealthy

To the Editor of The New York Times:

Re “A Family Office for the Superrich, and Lessons for the Less Wealthy” by Paul Sullivan (Wealth Matters column, Feb. 15):

It is not an easy time to be wealthy. On some level, a laughable problem. But in this era when everyone from the pope, to our president, to Nobel Prize-winning economists deem income inequality to be among the most pressing and potentially divisive issues of our era, all sorts of ugly sentiments about the wealthy have risen to the surface.

The wealthy have always been easy targets of envy and projection, but as the global divide deepens and economic mobility and aspirations seem increasingly stymied, hopelessness and anger further fuel distorted perspectives. For most of us, empathy directed toward the less fortunate comes easily. But ultimately empathy must transcend economic class. If we cannot approach the wealthy with empathy about their situation and unique problems, we cannot engage them in constructive conversation about this divide. Their isolation and exclusion from the dialogue will only add to polarization and hostility.

The family office of the future must not only protect financial capital of the families it serves, but it must also grow human capital. Advisers must assist the wealthy in engaging in challenging conversations about complex issues of values, identity, responsibility and new kinds of philanthropy. And ideally, they will serve as think tanks for their constituencies to become participants in the solution of increasingly malignant global inequality.

New York Times February 24, 2014

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