taking the words of Jesus seriously


Casino mogul Steve Wynn is a billionaire. He has amassed a fortune with casinos across the globe. High profile and high energy, at 74 he is still pushing forward.


At a recent investors meeting he was talking about the proposed Wynn casino outside of Boston. In a lame attempt to explain the high end branding his company seeks to achieve, he said,  


At first we might dismiss this comment as just another poorly stated, class war comment from a tone deaf billionaire. We might think he didn’t really mean it, or it just came out badly. Or perhaps we’d even agree and understand the truth of the statement.


Well, whatever your reaction, mine was grief and sadness for many reasons.


First, it is sad because there is some truth to it — at least the part about the rich only wanting to be around other rich people. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb said in his book Anti-Fragile, “The worst side effect of wealth is the social associations it forces on its victims, as people with big houses tend to end up socializing with other people with big houses.”


Nassim is right. Rich people do like to hang out with other rich people. Sometimes they are even required to if they want to stay rich (to stay connected and networked within a circle of colleagues or competitors). But even if not required to do so, they still tend to gather together along economic lines.


That strikes me as sad and as an utterly incomplete way to live life. If the only people you hang out with are in the same economic stratosphere, how can your heart, mind and soul ever be fully developed? You might be economically rich, but you will be socially and spiritually poor.


The second reason it made me sad is we’re listening to a casino mogul tell us about human behavior. Not that he isn’t qualified — casinos are absolutely brilliant at understanding and manipulating our behavior. But what does that say about our society and our values?


Third, it hurts to think that Wynn is so disconnected from the poor that he flippantly dismisses them as not even wanting to be around each other. Really Wynn? Think about that statement. They don’t want to be around family? They don’t want to be around their neighbors? They don’t want to be around their church or community relationships? They can’t wait to escape from their “poverty” so they can go hang out with people like you?


I don’t think so.


Wynn would likely say that isn’t what he meant. But it was still a flippant comment. Undoubtedly there are people in poverty who want to connect with richer people. And with good reason — jobs, networks, and insightful information all come with access.


But to flippantly insinuate the social network of a person in poverty — family, friends, school, church, neighborhood — as something they long to escape is insulting and yes, a tone deaf statement.


To be fair, I am still tone deaf at times. But my life is richer because I chose to spend time with people unlike me. I intentionally sought out people from different places, cultures, vocations, and especially economic means.


Of course nobody is going to call me Mother Teresa.


But hopefully nobody calls me Steve Wynn either.


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