When the rich and the poor meet, there’s always a sort of obligation, expected to be fulfilled by the rich. Rarely is anything expected of the poor. That’s probably why we sometimes fail to account for the friction that usually proceeds from this encounter. The poor person mostly finds himself at a material disadvantage, and no one would expect any wrong to ensue from his lowliness. Maybe that’s right in some cases, but we can’t completely write off the dangerous inclinations of poverty.
For the rich person, what is required is pretty much straightforward. No one wants to see the rich man boast in the presence of the poor man, whether or not he does anything to alleviate the later’s plight. It is the rich man that usually has the condescending tone and the haughty attitude.
It is always the rich man that has to watch his moral behaviour, while the poor man is spared any judgement. However, when we watch closely an encounter between the rich and the poor, we’ll realize that poverty can be as much a bad influence as money. This also applies to solitary moments of want. It is easy for us to be overcome by covetousness when we meet people who have the things we lack.
An elderly man who has worked hard all his life and has no wealth happens to meet a young man—who has known very little hardship—basking in riches. In such a scenario, it is imperative for the non-wealthy to show as much moral discretion as the rich fellow. Just as money tends to breed pride and condescension, the lack of it can breed covetousness and entitlement. So it is when we are faced with the abundance of things we lack, but can’t have.
Another inconspicuous trait that is hidden under the cloak of want is the susceptibility to slander. Spreading malicious and unfounded news about a person can be counterproductive. And it only breeds contempt and a spirit of entitlement, which can be destructive. But, this is the way of many people.
For example, when Napoleon Bonaparte says that “the surest way to remain poor is to be honest,” we realize that there is a tendency to put aside moral values in order to cope with lack. Even the wealthy can fall into this contraption, as we all face one sort of poverty or the other.
P.S. In general, poverty is a societal ill, and the onus is on the society to tackle it. In the face of hunger and serious deprivation, people can resort to crime or worse. After all, as Confucius wrote, “in a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of”.