I’m going to start with thanks. If you are dutifully wearing your mask when appropriate, washing your hands frequently, and maintaining social distancing, I thank you. I say it here because if I say it when we meet it might just sound like mumbles muffled by fabric and social distancing. Seeing herds of tourists walking around without masks, or distancing (and I’m not going to ask if they wash) made me wonder about how much society relies on layers of thankless kindnesses – and whether this time next year kindness or arrogance will rule. And, because this is a personal finance blog, I wonder what that means for jobs, investing, and life in general.
I live on a touristy island which has a few touristy towns. It’s June. It’s the season for tourists to arrive.
Langley from calmer days
Coupeville from calmer days
Real estate has been busy during the crisis. People want to escape the density of concrete canyons, or condos, or at least move to some place with more space. I get to work with the people making a commitment to live such a life.
Tourists are escaping the same things, but temporarily. They’re escaping tight restrictions and looking for a way and a place to relax. Evidently, they forget that many of the rules they’re trying to escape and in force, here, too.
There was a rare break in my day, today. Generally, I like the tourist towns – from September through May. Otherwise, I shop in other parts of the island. Believe it or not, there are shops that are selling more than gifts and souvenirs. But, there are some special items that are only available in the midst of the crowds. Some of them are health-related. Some of the items support my work as an artist. (Stay tuned for my next book which is in the mail. I’ll announce that when it arrives.) So, I parked on the outskirts, put on my mask because I do anyway and because the town has edicted that masks are required, and set out to say hello to friends and do my chores.
And there goes a maskless team of eight, packed together, no distancing, and roaming along the sidewalk aimlessly. I suspect they didn’t notice me standing back from them by about eight feet until they passed. Just a part of the scenery to ignore. In the next hour I would guess that about half of the people in town were maskless. None were people I knew. All of the people I knew were wearing masks. All of the people I visited were working there, sustaining the town, all running essential businesses. My friends were making the tourist town attractive enough to draw people to the island (and make it better for the locals throughout the year), and yet were probably not going to be thanked by the very people whose health they were defending. From what I see in the news, the maskless are more likely to get upset than to say thank you if asked them to wear a mask, too.
Somehow, (gasp, how?) the last few years people have been encouraged to be more selfish, less considerate, and less compassionate. The majority of the protests seem to be trying to counter that trend. I don’t know what will return us to common courtesy, manners, politeness, and community. (If my mother was alive and we let her run the country, well, this would get turned around real quick.)
Do you see where this is going? Human cultures continue to mature, but it looks like we’re still in an adolescent phase where we’re obviously growing up. We’re also obviously dealing with acne, greasy skin, hair that won’t behave, impulses that seem like a good idea at the time, and occasionally saying deeply embarrassing things that we may regret later, too late. Jobs, investing, and life in general are things driven by logical advice, mature advice. Human culture is also a mix, like a high school. Some are trying to act responsibly. Some 14 year olds act like they’re 41. Others act like they’re 4.
We’ve progressed because enough mature people and enough resourceful people have lived constructively and in community. We’ve also progressed because of inventors and revolutionaries who also live constructively. Even their disruptions are intended to be positive. At least in the US, inventors can become wealthy. They at least get that for thanks. The dutiful employees, however, may get a paycheck and a rousing speech if their company does well. Considering how much has been accomplished to get us here and now, that’s little thanks.
We’re also witnessing the result and the value of those centuries of efforts as we suddenly find ourselves missing things we took for granted. (My hair, oh my hair. I’m starting to look like a cross between Santa Claus, Alfred E. Neuman, and Albert Einstein. And, no; I am not including a bio photo.) Some become more appreciative of what they must give up temporarily. Others cry like 4 year olds who’ve been told to go to bed on time.
Jobs, investing, life.
We’ve seen it. Most jobs are thankless, even if they are essential. Maybe this is the precipitating event that changes that.
As currently designed, investing favors the wealthy, but allows anyone to play. (And yes, at some level it is play. Think about how often you hear about winning and losing when it comes to stocks.) The investors in small companies, the individuals who tell others about the company and its goods or services may be thanked with a rising share price, but they probably don’t get their fair share of the credit. They may become thousandaires or maybe millionaires, but if my shares become worth ten thousand dollars, someone with a hundred more shares will become worth more than a million dollars regardless of anything either of us did beside accumulate enough money to buy the shares. That’s true, except for the people who benefit from executive compensation packages that can escalate even as a company flounders. They may put in fewer hours than some investors, do less to market the company, yet be paid richly.
Life is largely thankless. I never thanked my parents enough. When I’m driving, I’m more likely to notice someone doing something dangerous than someone who obeys all the rules, guidelines, and laws. I do notice them, however. When I bicycled across America (Just Keep Pedaling), many people would ask about how I dealt with the drivers who would blast their horns at me, maybe swerve towards me, or shout insults as they sped past. Standing by the side of the road during a break I realized how many thousands of cars and trucks passed me every day, dutifully, maturely staying their lanes. After a while I realized there was usually only one bozo per day (except in Kansas and maybe Arkansas, shudder, where it was one per hour). I had to respect the threat a bozo could be, but also look at how many tolerated me. A thousand to one? And there was no way to thank them.
I’ve watched people put up their guard when I deliver an unexpected thank you. It is as if they are expecting a sales pitch to follow. Too often when we get some news the sweeter the coating the more bitter what’s inside. Maybe that’s something else that can change in this culture.
How does this affect my personal finance? I look for the positive in my job(s). (Which can be REALLY tough some days.) I also concentrate on investing in companies that are positively disruptive. Sadly, I also don’t act surprised if essential workers aren’t treated well enough for them to afford the essentials.
I am not a parent, but I can recognize thankless kindness in what they do. Just as all of us move society by our actions, parents move along children. Almost all of that is thankless, but at least we recognize it in parents and others with a simpler word. Love. Thanks to all who love.
PS While Island County (the home of me and the tourist towns described above) is possibly entering Phase Three, the United States of America is no longer projected to reach zero deaths per day through October. Currently, over 700 people are dying per day and the total deaths projected by the start of October exceeds 200,000. People. 200,000 people. At that rate, our hard-fought Phase Three progress may be lost. Thank you for wearing your mask, washing your hands, and maintaining appropriate distancing.
My mask protects you. Your mask protects me and my family (even if they aren’t with me).
Why is this a difficult concept?
I try to practice seeing the virtues in day to day activities. It helps me see the positive. SOmeone driving dangerously? They are displaying a lot of courage. Maybe a little on the side of excess, but still courage.
And practice gratitude daily. THank you for continuing to write, for doing your podcast, for connecting me to other writers. You are appreciated, my friend.