Is It Tough to be Virtuous When You are Rich?

Is It Tough to be Virtuous When You are Rich?
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ByZhen Zhuyue | Translated by Richard Lim

TAIWAN—My first teaching experience at an aristocratic private school was fraught with difficulties.

I had a student who hurtfully declared, “My mom said we who pay the tuition fees are the boss. Teachers must listen to us.” Once, when I bought pearl milk tea for my students to reward them for their good performance, they said, “Teacher, we don’t want pearl milk tea. We want mango smoothie.” It was difficult to digest these words, but the students spoke them with so much honesty and imploration in their eyes, as if this was the most ordinary thing to do.

Thereafter, when I was chatting with a friend who lived in that school district, she said solemnly, “Rich kids are very difficult to teach!”

Problems Arise When Money Is Given Top Priority

My friend analysed, “Since young, these children know that because their parents have no time for them, they can make material demands to be satisfied. Because their parents can settle many things with money, they have enjoyed superior treatment  and anything they wanted since birth. It is no wonder that they do not know manners or gratefulness. They live with a sense of superiority and arrogance, and tend to be self-centred.”

Subsequently, when I was managing problematic students as a teacher, the school director—worried that I might be too young and quixotic—earnestly advised, “I’ve been in the education sector for many years; the status of teachers is not the same as before. In the past, I taught children of minister-class officials. When these children made mistakes, their parents sincerely and respectfully brought their kids to apologise to the teacher and quietly listen to the teacher’s teachings … Now, many rich parents have a different attitude.”

As these parents barter material wealth for love and affection, their children have a feeling of absolute superiority, resulting in low tolerance towards their environment and other people.

They also lack a sense of security, and one of their most common problems is that even though they crave affirmation and friendship, they might not understand interpersonal relations.

They make big expenditures to treat friends and wear exotic items to draw attention, but because they lack self-confidence, they cannot forge true friendships and often find themselves mired in deception, conflict, anger and depression. They tell one lie after another, hoping to gain status among friends, but they are often exposed for their lies and end up isolated and repulsed. Their parents, obsessed with their superior status, indiscriminately defend their children.

I had a former repeat student who left the deepest impression on me. Once, during a field trip, he brought alcohol to “share” on the tour bus, which made many of his classmates vomit after being inebriated. On another occasion, he brought books replete with blood and violence, which are not suitable for children, and circulated them in class.

When I found out and informed his parents, his mother, who was a high level executive at a company, was not the least bit bothered. Instead, she coldly replied, “Our entire family treats our guests with alcohol. … I paid for the book with my credit card and I did not see the book clearly at that time. Please do not reprimand (us).” It was an offensive response.

His father also told me off in a high-handed and domineering way, “Do not presume that I have no influence on the school’s board. I can make you lose your job. No student will ever think of you after his graduation!”

To be Rich and Courteous

Eventually, I decided to leave that school despite the director’s persuasions to stay. I went to teach as a substitute teacher in a school at a remote place.

There, I felt a world of difference as a teacher. The children there were likeable and innocent, and obedient and respectful towards teachers. When I occasionally gave them a treat, they would joyously celebrate. Their positive attitude and character raised the deepest affection in my heart, and I slowly began to cheer up and regain my former optimism.

Notably, I received a phone greeting from my former student (i.e. the child who gave his classmates alcohol) on New Year’s Eve when the clock struck 12. Although we only spoke a few words, he seemed to have matured a lot. After I hung up, I could not help but be grateful to God for helping me regain my confidence in the education sector through this phone call.

At the end of the day, the real problem does not reside in poverty or wealth. The true task is for us to maintain the nobility of our character and seek constant self-improvement to counter the seduction of material wealth.

Conversely, what is most lamentable is to lust after ill-gotten gains, or to disregard what ought to be cherished, and thereby go astray.

In recent memory, stories of kids from rich families getting into trouble have repeatedly made headlines. Two years ago, a rich college student who flaunted his wealth online got into a drunk-driving accident with his luxury car, destroying four lives and a happy family.

This month, a South Korean airline heiress was charged in court for threatening navigation safety by making a plane return to the gate, because she was unhappy with the ‘wrong way’ her macademia nuts were served, in a bag instead of on a plate.

These stories speak of the crimes and debauchery committed by the children of the rich, and serve as a timely warning to us all.

The true task is for us to maintain the nobility of our character and seek constant self-improvement to counter the seduction of material wealth.

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