Andrew talks about connection, transcendence, protection and harmony, and what we can learn about ourselves.
What a difference a pandemic makes, not only in investment markets, but more importantly in our daily lives and society at large. Today I’ll focus on the latter where we have much more control, despite many feeling trapped.
Rewinding to late January 2020 when news emerged of China shutting down Wuhan to “get ahead” of COVID-19, who amongst us imagined that > 60% of the global population would find itself “locked down” to “flatten the curve,” through “social distancing?” How could this happen, and so quickly? Yesterday a dear friend sent me the best explanation so far:
Once an old, wise man was sitting under a tree when the epidemic god came along. The wise man asked him, “Where are you going?” The god of epidemic replied, “I’m going to the city and I’m going to kill a hundred people there.” On his return journey, the god of epidemic came back to the wise man. The wise man said to him, “You told me that you wanted to kill a hundred people. But travellers told me that ten thousand had died.” The epidemic god said, “I only killed a hundred. The others were killed by their own fear.”
– Zen Buddhist allegory
In late 2019, I embraced a theme of “Connection, Transcendence, Protection and Harmony.” It still applies, though the narrative has morphed. Above all, what can we learn about ourselves?
Connection: Over the years, I’ve made reference here and elsewhere to how our society is “more wired and less connected” than ever before, specifically because of technology’s ubiquity. Today, we find ourselves either trapped (?) with loved ones or home alone, with every authority figure shaming us – through every device – for venturing too frequently to the grocery store or daring to pass another human outside within 2 meters. That’s a lot of masked deer frozen in one massive set of headlights!
“Distrust of the other” is being drilled into us 24/7. Some solitude is beneficial but most of us function best with regular in-person contact with those we like, and even with those we love. Basic trust of others is the thread humans use to weave the basic fabric of civilized society; presently, these threads are being rapidly eroded by acerbic fear.
The longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes to prevent major tears in the fabric of our great western society. Disconnection leads to chaos, especially disconnection from our authentic selves. As it is within, so it is without. Mindfulness practice, prayer, music, exercise and laughter all help build connection.
Transcendence: Rising above the chaos is challenging, especially with underdeveloped wings. Even juveniles can get airborne with the lift of historical perspective, acute skepticism of the herd mentality, and a sensitive B.S. meter. I thank goodness (and my parents!) for these, and a learned appreciation of the Socratic Method.
We know the risk of COVID-19 spread is low, and thankfully the mortality rate dramatically lower still. In this context, is the forced shutdown of the economy commensurate with the COVID-19 risk? Are other serious lasting human costs (job-loss induced spikes in depression, anxiety, suicide, domestic violence, etc.) being given appropriate weight by the mighty decision makers?
Do we judge the pronouncements and directives of the powerful based on the degree of alignment with our own political philosophy, or do we carefully measure the risk/reward and wisdom/folly with stoic and detached critical thinking? Does it feel like we’re being worked, managed or manipulated?
Are we able to transcend even ourselves, and take on the role of our own observer?
Protection: Our Portfolio Managers have been doing a truly fine job of protecting portfolio values, and have made many nimble shifts to maximize recovery potential, while acknowledging that the major bottom may not yet have passed. So let’s transcend financial protection.
How well do you think our closest levels of government have prepared to protect us through this unlikely event? Do you remember the allegory of the Ant and the Grasshopper? Do we fully comprehend the “flattening of the curve” of our basic civil liberties, or do we simply nod and “moo” quietly as we fall in line with the rest of the herd?
Who are the thought leaders that dare stand up and insist on any semblance of fiscal restraint and sunset clauses for so-called “temporary measures?” What are the longer term effects of Trudeau’s smugly-delivered yet spine-chilling assurance, “Your government is here to help you?”
Should an infected patient maintain the freedom to choose early-course off-label treatments with “novel medications” (with marginal side effect profiles) for this novel virus, or be forced to wait for bureaucratic overlords to conduct further trials and we listen to politicians scream for more of the ventilators or PPE they chose not to stockpile in advance?
Who is watching the tendencies, biased pronouncements and behavior of various media outlets? How is our present and future privacy being protected, or is it vanishing in the tsunami of media-induced fear? What can be done, practically speaking?
Harmony: We all have AGENCY here; let’s strengthen it with vigorous use. If we’re not careful, the seeds of new and exaggerated discord can lay down permanent roots. If we’re mindful, clearly intentioned, courageous and persistent, we can excavate our oldest and deepest fearful roots that manifest as unhealthy behaviours and the inaccurate personal stories we tell ourselves and others. We can plant flowers instead of allowing weeds.
How do we endure this present chaos AND nurture maximum harmony when our “new normal” emerges? How do we honor the importance of our closest relationships when things aren’t going our way? How do we cultivate compassion for ourselves and others in the face of fear-based protective instincts? How do we keep our good humor with others, and continue to laugh at ourselves? Thankfully, there are too many ways to list here.
From my perspective, this all comes back to free will. We can decide to come out of this wiser, stronger and more caring than before. This is both a frightening and a wonderful pandemic; we each get to decide which one wins out. I choose wonderful. How about you?
Patience and Discipline are accretive to your wealth, health and happiness; so focus on these.
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Andrew H. Ruhland, CFP, CIM
Founder, Integrated Wealth Management