Interesting Times

There is, purportedly, a Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” Given events over the past five years, it appears that the curse may have been invoked. As always the question is, “What are you doing about it?”

Turbulent times need not necessarily be systemic in order to matter. Each of us has had or is having turbulent times that are unique to us. The question however, remains the same. What to do?

The solution to any difficult problem follows the same path. Take stock. Acquire objectivity. Discover action steps. Implement. Review and revise.

  • Where does the turbulence come from?
  • Is it systemic? Will it change back? When?
  • If not are there clear new conditions?
  • Have the “rules” changed? Is it merely complexity?
  • Is my perception complete? Am I disconnected from the new reality? Can I understand it? Can I reconnect in a different way?
  • Is it culture shock?
  • Is action required? If so, how soon?
  • Am I making it a problem? Consider cognitive dissonance.
  • Do I have a resource who can guide me?
  • How are my investments affected? Probably down, but that means only four possible things. More savings, same savings for longer, higher yield is required, reduced spending in future. Could I deal with any of those?
  • How about my job or business? Demographics, technology, competitors affected worse, skills needed still the same?
  • Have my goals changed? Probably not.

Finding answers will be clarifying, possibly soothing. It may not be a crisis of biblical proportions after all. Action steps and options become visible.

What if you skip the survey step?

Then other things happen.

If you believe there is a serious and personally adverse problem, then you tend to become emotional. Fearful. When there are few facts, emotion is the response. When that happens you start to believe external authorities or informed sources. Usually you do that without verifying their credentials, biases and beliefs. It is difficult to check in a timely way in any case. Usually the external authority or informed source provides instructions or at least implied actions.

These responses are exactly the required collection needed to implement a hoax. If you are frightened, approached by a seemingly reliable authority who cannot be verified or perhaps by several with the same message, and told do something that seems to be a solution, do you do it?

For example, you are on the 14th floor of a hotel. The phone rings and you are informed by the front desk that there is a ruptured gas line on the 14th floor. You must not go in the hall or you will surely be incapacitated and maybe die. Immediately place wet towels along the bottom of the door to your room. You cannot open the window, so to get access to fresh air, take your television and throw it through the window. You must do it now, you have only a few minutes to get it done.

Would you do it?

This has actually happened and almost everyone “opened the window” with the television. Probably back when televisions were bigger, heavier and not attached to the wall.

There is a lesson there. If you find yourself becoming emotionally connected to a problem without objective facts to analyze your position, then you need to step back and check. Ask questions. Gather information. Revisit goals, personal strengths and options.

Ideally you have someone who understands you, your goals, your resources, your time frames and your strengths. A personal adviser.

If you don’t have an adviser now, hold auditions. Try to avoid those who share your experiences, hopes, fears and expectations. They may react the same way you do.

You might not need an adviser to deal with this level of emotional problem, hopefully you do not, but if you do need them, you will need them badly. Plan ahead.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.