Tips for the guilt-ridden rich: Help is at hand for people who feel uneasy about their wealth. Andrew Bibby reports

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WEALTH is the one remaining taboo in our society and two US authors, Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian, have written a book to help us overcome it. 'People talk about money all the time - like how much their house cost, or what the stock market is doing. But you never ask people 'how much do you own?' or 'how much do you give away?',' says Mr Mogil.

Their book, We Gave Away a Fortune, starts from the premise that having wealth can cause dilemmas, particularly for those people who feel that their money conflicts with their beliefs or what they want to do with their lives. The book's title comes from the tales of 16 people who resolved their dilemmas by deciding to give away some or almost all of their capital.

This is clearly a long way from traditional charitable giving, and indeed from conventional ideas about money management. Mr Mogil and Ms Slepian accept that it is unlikely to be everybody's choice, but they argue that it should be seen as legitimate behaviour.

Their main aim, they say, is more practical than idealistic: to encourage people to develop a more rational approach towards money. This may lead in the end to a decision to make do with less. 'Money becomes a symbol for meeting every possible need: security, happiness, power, success, status, self-esteem. If you're expecting money to do all those things, you're bound to be disappointed. People lose touch with what they really want their lives to be about,' says Mr Mogil.

Watching the wealthy agonise over the problems of being rich might seem unattractive to the rest of us. However, several of the issues raised in the book - such as guilt, fear, the question of inheritance and how to give away money effectively - may prove to have a wider resonance.

The book's authors live in Boston, Massachusetts and are involved in the Funding Exchange, a US network of 'alternative' grant-making foundations sponsoring social change initiatives. While most of the book's examples are taken from the US, many of the same issues have already surfaced in Britain.

Mr Mogil and Ms Slepian were in this country last week visiting members of the Network for Social Change, a loose-knit organisation of rich people (there is a minimum wealth qualification of pounds 250,000) that has been meeting for the past seven years. The group aims to provide a forum for people trying to reconcile their money with their feelings of social responsibility.

Its most recent meeting, held two weeks ago in Dorset, was attended by about 40 adults with their children. One of the organisers of the event was Nicola Waterson (name changed at her request), who joined the network about a year ago. The daughter of a self- made millionaire, she admits she has felt uncomfortable about being affluent and describes her first contact with the Network as 'very moving'.

'It was almost like going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting - the feeling that, gosh, there are other people who feel the same way as me,' she says. 'Even as a child I felt embarrassment about having money. The Network is a place to talk about issues like guilt.'

Network members commit themselves to giving away at least pounds 2,000 a year, though many choose to make more substantial donations. It has also developed a form of collective giving, whereby potential recipients are jointly assessed.

Ms Slepian says many people find it hard to work out what they want from their money because there is no obvious place to discuss the issues. 'That's why groups like Network for Social Change are wonderful. People need to get support to work through all the issues which hold them back.'

'We Gave Away a Fortune' is on sale in bookshops at pounds 9.99.

(Photograph omitted)

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