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Prudence, Fear and Irony

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4186728 Prudence, Fear and Irony
Cover of Alanis Morissette

In the 1990’s, an upstart pop singer Alanis Morisette released a song entitled Ironic.  The song ran through a litany of unfortunate occurrences that really were more indicative of bad luck than irony.  Irony is the phenomenon of taking actions intended to bring about one outcome which end up producing the opposite outcome.  Some people speculate that this is the greater meaning of the song Ironic, in that it is a song about irony in which nothing in the song is ironic.  I have my doubts.  I had the benefit of hearing a great talk, by a leadership expert, Jeremie Kubicek, about the concept of self-preservation in the current economy and how when it comes to personal finance our own fear and the actions we take in response to it can bring about our own financial self-destruction.

There is a strange thing about how our lives evolve from youth into adulthood.  In some ways we are different and in other ways we never change.  So much of our youth is driven by self-image in relation to others.  In our attempts to fit in, we adopt the cultural rules and the norms of others.  We submit ourselves to excessive pressures due to supporting self-imposed cultural expectations, putting energy in maintaining a delusion that we are the embodiment of those expectations.  As we grow up, we usually care less and less what other people think, but we often mistakenly assume equally burdensome expectations of oneself or obligations often in the form of debt, duty and lifestyle.  So although the reason for the pressures has changed, the pressures have not.  Unfortunately, although only a change of perspective can relieve us of the burdens of our own expectations.  Some burdens of our obligations have much sharper teeth.  If you burden yourself with debt, for instance, there are legal ramifications for abandoning them. 

The problem with all flavors of burden is that they exert huge burdens on the psyche, which are transmitted to everyone around us, particularly in times of great stress.  It takes energy to maintain a delusion.  Either I am trying to convince myself that I am what others think I should be, what I think I should be, or I may face the consequences of not being able to meet my obligations.  Fear and worry put us in a fight or flight mode, where it becomes easier to withdraw.  This damages our relationships with others, shuts down our higher thinking processes, makes the quality of our work less and usually endangers the very things we are trying to build walls around to protect.  Irony indeed.

2880286209 6c063c8b55 m Prudence, Fear and Irony
Image by nikoretro via Flickr

The economic downturn of the past few years has made many of us uncertain and scared.  I, myself, lost much and endangered much more.  Humans are not built to keep their spirits in bottles.  Fear entices us to do just that.  It is only through self-examination that you can find the things that you are afraid of losing.  Know that if your fear pushes you to build walls of protection around you, you are destined to lose those things.  You must fight back with all your power against that reaction.  I actually had to endure my biggest fear to lose my fear of it.  It’s a strangely liberating experience and drove me to write about money topics.

As parents, it makes sense to teach our children the concept of prudence, which is the art of delaying action until we’ve completed our due diligence.  But prudence is very different from fear.  The first is the analytical higher level thinking process of decision making.  The latter is the emotional reactions of our reptilian brain.  By discussing the difference between the two and by discussing the pressures of youth and adulthood and the consequences of taking on obligations, we can raise our kids to deal with our fears in constructive ways. 

Fear is there to make us aware of danger, not to make us afraid of it. Now that’s irony.

 Prudence, Fear and Irony
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