Point of View A Strange Country

Concern for others transmutes to indifference as wealth increases

   “Hoy es El Dia de la Independencia en Los Estados Uni­dos,” I said to a woman, who, while an engineer in her native country, does what she can here. “Y yo lo celebré con una ducha afuera!”
    She laughed on hearing I had celebrated Independence Day by showering outdoors.
    There was no need, other than the fact that I like to try, for me to speak Spanish; her English is as good as mine, but she, whom I have enlisted as a sometime teacher (thus she will be building bridges of a different kind) is willing to humor me.
    She said, “You can make $500 a month in Ecuador and $500 a week here.” With the season’s end she’ll return there, where she owns a small house free and clear and where her two children remain.
    It occurred to me that in a more perfect world she would not be constrained to work well outside of her profession and that I would not be so fortunate as to receive a more-or-less living wage for watching balls go back and forth.
    In sum, it’s the luck of the draw, as Warren Buffett, presumably the paradigm of the American Dream, says, mindful as he is that that dream has for most been receding. I guess I ought not to wonder then how it is — as a recent New York Magazine article citing various studies has shown — that concern for others transmutes to indifference as wealth increases.
    (One of the cited studies, which perhaps could be undertaken here too, showed that drivers of high-priced cars were by and large more aggressive than those who drove less expensive ones, which was probably why I, in contrarian fashion, cut off the guy in the shiny new blue car who tried to outmaneuver me onto Dayton Lane the other day as we decided to forsake car-clogged Main Street!)
    This is a strange country — bountiful and generous (nowhere more evident, by the way, than at Saturday’s Swim Across America here) yet grasping and small-minded at the same time.
    The money is good, yes, in comparison to most of the rest of the world, and we are free, more or less, as are many others in the rest of the world.
    But if, in fact, wealth largely fosters fear, smugness, and alienation rather than the liberality which freedom ought to foster, maybe we should add to our calendars an Indifference Day (‘El Dia de la Indiferencia’), a day for cold showers only.