Monday, June 29, 2009

There's No Magic in Money

Today Madoff was sentenced to the maximum term of 150 years and his investor victims got their chance to have their say. The stories are tragic. One of the investors Burt Ross, a former mayor of Fort Lee New Jersey, reported to the press outside of court that his loss of money was tragic, but his greatest tragedy was his loss of trust. He went on to draw an analogy between Dante and "The Divine Comdey" theme and the sentence and future. The depths of hell, according to Dante, plagues those who have betrayed trust.

The loss of trust is far more painful than the loss of money, according to Ross and Dante. Ross says that he and other victims he has met share a loss of trust that is pervasive in affecting love and relationships which depend on trust to flourish. So, yes, they have lost money, but they have lost much more.

It occured to me that what Ross didn't say is that he has lost trust in himself--trust that he knows what is right for him. What barometer will he and other victims use to trust again? How will they protect themselves and make themselves feel safe?

Unfortunately, I have known and know many other people who have been dramatically plagued by this loss of self-confidence and inability to trust again. They now manage their own money or they hire managers who have no incentive or conflict of interest in managing their money.

To trust again--themselves and others--they have to acknowledge and forgive their own liabilities and contributions for their financial and emotional loss. Reasons may have included excessive greed, unreasonableness and lack of personal responsibility in doing adequate research. The important lesson is to recognize how powerful these personal dynamics are in motivating us to make inappropriate, and often times, dangerous decisions.

There is no magic here. There is no crystal ball which will enable a wizard to do the impossible; i.e. guarantee big or regular returns. If we fall for that promise, we have bought into a fantasy and self-deceptive ploy. When we give up our involvement, our sense of reasonablenness; we give up ourselves. We then become victims of others and of our own human emotions. Fear and greed are well-known culprits in playing havoc with sound money management.

I believe wholeheartedly in following the "3-R Rule" which has helped me and many others I have counseled and met. The 3 R's: Reasonable, Rewarding and Realistic are trust-worthy and reliable guide-posts for making sound and suitable decisions.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Greatest Fear Turns to Pleasant Surprise

Have you ever had the following experience: your greatest fear turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you? Had you not been forced to play out the scenario, you would not have had the opportunity of being so pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often. We don’t experiment with something new because we fear the outcome which is a great unknown to us. We’re going through that scenario today with the prospect of making significant changes in our medical system.

The potential change pushes our fear buttons and sets off powerful emotional charges. Our health is so very personal and we want to be in control of our medical care. We want to choose what is best and not deliver that right to our government.

I understand all of the reticence and fear which makes sense when you know what you know, but don’t know what you don’t know. Most people hear nothing but negative facts about other medical systems around the world. They are led to believe that the U.S. medical system is superior and the only one that delivers professional, unlimited and personal care.

It was just four years ago that I had the same reactions. As we were moving to France for a few years I made my husband promise to bring me home to the U.S. if I needed serious medical intervention. I had no trust in any other country’s medical care as I had only heard the fear mongering about socialized medicine of the last decade in the American media.

That mind-set led me to being closed and prejudiced in my thinking of what might be possible. I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised and humbled by my medical care while living in France. In fact, I wish I could do something to bring that same level of care and experience to the U.S at the same cost to me here as there. The humanity and sense of individual care that I feared would be lacking outside the U.S. turned out to be very much present--everything that the U.S. has lost in recent years.

I was treated with humanity, expertise and great individual care. From mammograms to dental check-ups, I had fabulous care and experiences for a fraction of the equivalent cost here in the USA. My personal experience led me to conducting qualitative research among an ex-pat community to see if others shared in my positive sentiments. Unanimously, I found others singing the praises of their medical care. There were no long waits for procedures; they had a thorough and lengthy doctor visit covering all of their concerns; they were given whatever tests and services they requested without question.

We hear of all kinds of catastrophes in the press about other countries where people are victimized by lack of choice and an inferior delivery system. Some of those cases may indeed be valid, but I cannot say that I or dozens of people I surveyed had the same experience. Most said, in retrospect, that they were glad they happened to be in France when they found out that they had cancer or that they had a heart attack.

I realize I am comparing the consistently number one medical system in the world, the French system, to that of the US which is consistently ranked in the teen’s but I make the case nonetheless. I have often heard politicians ask consumers if they would like to give up what they have in the U.S. and risk having the inferior system such as the English, French or Canadian system. So the next time a fear-mongering politician asks me if I want to risk having a medical system like that in England or Canada, I’ll gladly respond affirmatively for the French System. Yes, please. I’d be happy to receive the highest level of healthcare at a fraction of the cost I now pay with the current health care system here at home in the USA!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Using Empathy As An Asset

I just read David Brook's column, "In Defense of Empathy" and found it very insightful and germane to so many of life's critical decisions. His basic premise is that empathy is not only potentially helpful in making suitable decisions but an absolute necessity. His hypothesis is that people without emotional empathy cannot make sensible decisions because they don't know how much anything is really worth.

For David Brooks, it's whether Sonia Sotomayor is able to understand and manage her own emotions in the decision-making process that will predict whether she will be a prudent and judicious member of the Supreme Court. It will be her ability to empathize the specific context of each case while valuing gradual change, small steps and modest self-restraint.

It's both my experience and belief that empathy is a critical component in effectively dealing with life's decisions if we want to produce satisfactory and personally relevant consequences. This is true in most contexts--not just the judicial system. For example in my work dealing with the psychology of prudent money management, I've discovered that those individuals who understand how to effectively manage their emotions make more appropriate and satisfactory decisions. They not only accumulate more wealth, but they are also more satisfied in how they use their wealth.

This prudent and effective money management process is developed over time and with sufficient self-analysis, reflection and focus. The financial decisions are made within the context or framework of what's preferable, meaningful and most advantageous both in the short and long-term.

I totally agree with David Brooks that emotional empathy should be defended. "It's not whether judges rely on emotion and empathy, it's how they educate their sentiments within the discipline of manners and morals, tradition and practice." He understands that emotions can be a wise guide in some circumstances while a deceiver in others and what it takes to make it an asset.