|Poor People Skills & The Wealthy ~ Part 1.|
By Steven Ferry
Thursday, 10th September 2009
In the best of all possible worlds, people would be rational and compassionate and anyone working in private service or the luxury hotel market can probably tell a tale or two about the wealthy they have served, either about how incredibly kind they were, or how challenging.
As much as we might wish to enjoy the pleasures and privileges of the wealthy, the status does come with some pitfalls that can catch the wealthy off guard. There is nothing wrong with wealth, but it takes more than admonitions about difficulties negotiating the eyes of needles to point the wealthy, who may be struggling with their power, in the right direction.
By way of illustration, take the case of a certain lady whose manicured, Italianate gardens stretched seemingly to the horizon, just one of the landscapes available to her at the two-dozen estates in her possession. One of the butlers knocked on the door leading to the balcony where we were enjoying tea, the view, and what could have been an equally pleasant conversation.
Judging by the poorly disguised franticness of the butler, his halting moves and hunted look, he appeared to be in terror of making a wrong move, one it seemed he knew he would be guilty of no matter which move he made. From the inevitable criticism that followed his clumsy departure, it was plain this lady, in turn, did not trust and certainly did not like her staff.
She was frantic about imagined threats to the safety of her children and made their life, and certainly that of the long series of nannies, miserable.
As for her husband, he found it expedient to keep himself busy running his businesses most of the time, and this so-privileged couple has since, with predictable acrimony and not so parsimonious alimony, split the estates and staffs and gone their separate ways. When one has everything, it seems so silly not actually to have or enjoy it.
“Domestic service, its defenders have always claimed, is an honorable estate. To be sure, some who took it up were cared for all their lives, honored and even cosseted, and finally laid to rest in the family plot—possibly with a carved attribute, ‘Rare character in these degenerate days.’ Others, the sad and often damp-souled majority, were exploited, snubbed, hectored, and humiliated; and so, whenever a choice of occupation [elsewhere] presented itself, they took it.”
E.S. Turner, What The Butler Saw, 1962
These same employers with revolving doors in their servant quarters can also be found draped over luxury hotels around the world, dispensing their brand of people skills to the consternation of hospitality employees who find themselves caught in crosshairs that need not be.
As the people skills of an employer or a hotel guest have a significant impact on those servicing them, it might be helpful to understand the foibles and frailties of wealthy employers that might make servicing them a tribulation for the brave and tremulous alike. As Emily Post advised in 1922, “Perhaps a servant problem is more often an employer problem. I’m sure it is.”
In considering wealthy people, we can identify two key groups: those who tend to amass great wealth (Wealth Accumulators); and those who ride on their coat tails, including those who inherit great estates and capital (Wealth Dissipaters).
In each category, there exist a) those who are no more capable of recognizing their condition than they are capable either of giving away their wealth or of accumulating it; b) those who recognize their condition but who lack the tools to enter into a better frame of mind; and c) those whose people skills earn them selfless and unquestioning support from those servicing them.
Let's explore Wealth Dissipaters first, focusing on one of their more common shortfalls when new to wealth. When their training, background, and contributions to the familial relationship have been the same essentially as that of the household manager or housekeeper, they find themselves bereft suddenly of a game and raison d’être.
Games are not just played in stadiums, but could be viewed as the basic activity and description of life itself: they give us goals to achieve despite opposition/opponents, they give us problems to focus our attention on solving. If a person lacks problems, if he or she lacks a game, he will invent them just as fast and tenaciously as you please. In the case of an employer newly out of a job, the trick is to find a new game to play, so they do not end up playing painfully tired and tawdry ones.
When a family member swung down the drive to pick up a butler from his employer’s estate one Saturday, a maid in a pinny (apron), carrying her cleaning cloth, rushed out to greet him. Except it was not the maid. It was the lady of the house. The relative had merely arrived in the middle of her chores, which consisted of cleaning the house from top to bottom, paying close attention to those places that had already been thoroughly cleaned by the actual maid: picture the maid and employer chasing each other around the mansion, cleaning in each other’s wake: which, in reality, meant the maid taking care of the employer’s exuberant smears of dried cleaning powder on multiple surfaces that had already been thoroughly cleaned. Wonderful fodder for a cartoon, but not overly efficient or morale-building: The maid at that time lasted six weeks.
Any employer having trouble adjusting to his or her (new) status as lord or lady of the manor could, as a first step, realize they indeed were the lord or lady, and not the cook, the major domo, or whatever. The strength of the employer is in being able to recognize the old game has ended, to have the courage to let go, allow another to take over, and to find a new game to throw themselves into. Weak individuals will hang onto their old game like a threadbare pair of slippers. Yet there are literally more games to invent and play than there are stars in the Milky Way. Sane games involve happiness for self and others. Insane ones involve harm for more and more people. That's a simple but workable rule of thumb.
Closely aligned for Wealth Dissipaters, in that the lack of a game is the problem in part, is the happy fact that they are wealthy and do not have to lift a finger. Privileged women in the 19th Century could go to their grave without ever having made a cup of tea or put on their own clothing. The concept of morale is relevant here: the enthusiasm and confidence that comes from demonstrating competence while producing a product or service or achieving a goal.
Wealth Dissipaters who lack a game and goal are not driven or required to produce anything and so are listless, bored—troublemakers, in short, for themselves and others. Being denied work, one soon enough finds oneself incapable of working at all. “But Mummy, I am boooooooored,” is a refrain commonly heard anywhere a young child's often clumsy contributions have been brushed aside too many times by busy adults. Where he or she subsequently and persistently has been denied a productive role in society or roles in games that interest, we find the petrie dish of juvenile delinquency. This ennui pushed into adulthood results in the abandonment of all efforts and sense of belonging in the idle rich.
There is no greater trap than trying to avoid work. This is what defines a criminal: unable to work, so he has to steal, whether by simple bludgeoning or complex schemes, whether of a single dollar or a trillion here or there. The irony of it all is that it is far harder and less satisfying to avoid work than it is to roll up one's sleeves and dig in to something with gusto.
Anyone who has tried to interest a child who is thoroughly bored, no doubt knows it will not happen with exhortations alone. One has to dig in and find where interest took a dive and rehabilitate that interest, or find new things that the person actually could be interested in. Couching the project in terms of helping someone else, give them a purpose exterior to themselves might galvanize them into motion under their own volition.
What games, otherwise, do such people find themselves playing? They tend towards negating whatever they see (and cannot contribute to); and social intercourse characterized by strained façades that thinly mask backstabbing intent, where a real liking for others and life is sadly just out of reach. At the higher-end of this scale “How do you do?” is expressed, leaving unexpressed, “I don’t care how you are doing; you are such a bore, how can I get away (or whatever)?” At the bottom of the scale we find no interest expressed at all for other people...much like an object expresses no interest: when was the last time your car enquired how you were doing?
The likes of Bertie Wooster in the Jeeves stories, Arthur in Arthur, and the Prince of Wales in Blackadder characterize just such idle rich, with nothing worthwhile to do, but they are the harmless types. Miss Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy provides a mild example of the type of employer for whom time sits heavily and staffs suffer as a result.
What drives Wealth Dissipaters to such murky depths of human understanding and caring? They are bored, they have a low opinion of themselves, their activity and contribution levels to society are in the basement, and they famously suffer from a high incidence of neurosis. But why is this still the case, despite centuries, even millennia of remonstrated failures and demonstrable grief, and proverbs to guide such as “The devil finds work for idle hands.”
There are at least five forces at work that conspire to drive the wealthy up a cul-de-sac/deadend:
1. Few people are telling such individuals to roll up their sleeves; few people are in a position where they can tell them to buck up; and few people can impinge much upon them while the basic issues of food and shelter are resolved and apparently all is well in the best of all possible worlds.
2. There is the continual beat of the advertising drums and the echoing social chatter that “possessions measure success and effortless play is the chimerical goal,” work being for the trolls and prols.
3. The tendency not to work is re-enforced by those who, in seeking work, pop the pimples and powder the wigs of their betters, doing all but spoon feed them. This is not to say that providing service is not beneficial: but only where it frees up the employer for more meaningful or exciting games. It is not meant to rob the employer of all games and make them into a high-class vegetable or Jabba the Hutt (Star Wars).
4. Parents assume that children want to have everything that can possibly be given to them, without realizing that the child can be overwhelmed by everything coming in towards them without being able to exchange or give something back. In a similar vein is the approach to education: the assumption is often made that a child will appreciate the opportunity for extensive education that others often do not have. In doing so, adults fail to recognize the child as a responsible party capable of, and needing to make, his or her own decisions.
In other words, someone whose willingness needs to be consulted and brought about. In essence, anyone wanting a child to learn something, might find it efficacious to ask the child, “What do you really want to know?” and then feeding and building on that. Not doing so results in resentment, not belonging, rebellion, no purpose, no game, and inability to work. This lack of involvement of the child is obviously not an issue that impacts just the wealthy. Why do rich families tend to maintain their wealth about three generations?
With survival guaranteed, the only game left seems to be working hard at failing. Unable to work, force-fed possessions like geese destined for pâté de foie, they end up as capable of doing anything as the objects they are surrounded by. What happened? Their power of choice was not consulted over the wealth they inherited and did nothing to earn, which results in them being disenfranchised from it, unable to feel it is theirs, and so squandering it.
5. Lastly, without something to keep their attention anchored on life in the present, they tend to be sucked back into past emotional upsets, physical injuries, and failures, and so relive those incidents without realizing it. This is the source of the unpleasantness that they visit on their employees. It’s a hidden influence, which explains why such people find it difficult to recognize what is wrong, or to correct it if they suspect or are told the error of their ways.
In other words, failing to generate energy for actual activity and work in the real world, they draw upon and fall into these old mental energies that were generated during these past impacts and upsets. Having drained these old mental reservoirs, they feel exhausted and seek energy from exterior sources: from gluttony, drugs, and an overindulgence in sex to a surfeit of possessions and even kleptomania.
This may all seem hard to grasp, so let's restate the sequence as: a person generates his own energy in playing games in life; when this possibility is denied, he raids reserves of stored mental energy (like a battery); when these deplete, he looks to exterior sources for his energy. Unrecognized, this dwindling spiral makes it very hard for the idle rich to change their condition or outlook. Being close by and tasked with servicing the employer, household (or hospitality) staffs tend to bear the brunt of such an employer’s general malaise, and unfortunately, tend to take it personally.
Steven Ferry, a multi-published author in a number of genres, is Chairman of the US-based International Institute of Modern Butlers, www.modernbutlers.com, and available for consulting, training, or speaking engagements.