The feeling you get when you see ‘the light go on’ is so common a phrase it’s almost trite, however, that phenomenon, the light going on, is not at all trivial. It’s difficult to express the personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that you feel when you realize that you may have just changed someone’s life and the direction in which they are heading. Hopefully for the better and quite possibly forever, that level of impact on others and how you can improve their future possibilities ranks right up there with curing cancer for me.
These are my reflections on why I continue to teach (Why I Teach).
In whatever area of expertise I’ve pursued throughout my life, I’ve always found a way to share what I had learned and what I discovered through experience with those around me who shared the same interests. I’ve taught music, drums and percussion, photography, the gospel of Jesus Christ, business, computers, and finally personal finance through my book, lectures, and online resources. In just that order chronologically, by the way… I’ve seen my music students grow and progress into music activities and careers of their own. I’ve seen photography students gain the understanding and confidence to step out and seek positions in photo studios and labs, and even start their own businesses.
Now that I have over the past few years focused my mind on personal finance and the larger topic of building wealth, I can reach a much broader audience and affect more people positively. Not everyone is a musician; not everyone is a photographer, but everyone to some degree has a need to use and manage their money effectively and efficiently.
According to statistics, marriages often fall on difficult times and can fail in large degree due to a lack of skill and knowledge (and difference of opinion) about how to handle family finances. In our western culture in the US, we don’t seem to be comfortable talking about money with our family and friends. For a variety of reasons we find it embarrassing to discuss finances.
I think this has happened for several reasons, the first being that in the few decades past World War II, directly related to US fiscal policy, the US entered a period of prosperity that brought wealth to the middle class like no time before in our history. As some people succeeded and society (and marketing) urged us into a nation of consumers, we became more aware that there was a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. To avoid embarrassment and possibly judgment of the actual ‘distance’ between the haves and have-nots, we tended to avoid discussing money in polite company. No one on either side, the successful and the not quite as successful, enjoys being embarrassed.
From my very conservative church-going background, money was often viewed in a poor light and seldom discussed with a complete understanding of the purpose that money was intended to serve throughout the Bible. I’ve recently researched money in particular as discussed in scripture, wrote many notes, fashioned a paper, and authored a lecture entitled ‘God’s Money’ on that very topic. That study offers quite a different viewpoint and is supported with scriptural references point by point. Oddly enough, the same money we were to be socially hesitant to discuss, and especially hesitant to desire, was always exchanged at the grocery store, gas station, and placed into the church collection plate. Strange that something so questionable should be so prevalent, even with the congregation and on Sunday morning.
When you back up from situations like that and take a simple, objective look at it, it begins to make more sense. That’s the kind of ‘mental cancer’ that can plague a person throughout their life and affect them negatively or hold them back from achieving their potential because they can’t rationalize how they feel (an emotional response) from what seems prudent and effective (factual analysis). The simple truth is this, ‘Money is a tool. You trade it for things you need and want.’ That’s a simple truth that when you back up from it far enough, it’s quite plain to see. When you’re hungry, money will pale in comparison to a decent meal.
Another simple truth is that despite its inanimate nature, the ‘behavior’ of money is to flee from anyone who doesn’t know how to respect it and put it to work. What I actually mean by that is that money without a purpose is soon spent without much forethought and therefore ‘disappears’. A large portion of what I teach to those seeking some wisdom about money is that a budget is a tool you use to give ‘purpose’ to your habits and choices made with your money. Once you establish the purpose for money, or a plan, financial circumstances can change rather quickly.
Another negative attitude that has been prominent in news coverage of political races lately is that somehow when money is earned it is ‘taken from someone else’. Money, and having an excess of it, has been demonized by the liberal left as ‘something that you have obviously taken’, and something that you ‘need to share or give back because you didn’t earn it’. This is a horribly skewed view of how people are rewarded for their hard work and skill set. It is how a politician without basis will tell you what’s wrong, why you should be angry, and then point their finger at who you should blame. When you see it happen, know that you are about to be manipulated! It’s shallow, ignorant, slander without basis, indignation without merit, and that’s the nice version polished for polite company!
Be certain to make the ugly face that goes with the ugly attitude if you ever feel the need to spout, ‘you make an obscene amount of money!’ That’s only one of two ways to pull that statement off. The other more positive way is to say, ‘You make an obscene amount of money.’ with both a smile and a tone of admiration. Then follow the statement with another, ‘Do you think you can show me how you did that?’ When we’re both successful we can help more people and take on more causes than when we’re both bitter, complaining, and sitting beside one another in adjacent cardboard boxes on the same cold dirty street. Success breeds more success the same way that bitterness breeds more bitterness. What seeds are you sowing?
It is in fact very common to create money or value out of nothing more than an idea. I represent a financial product line with attributes that offer benefits to a particular group of disabled people. I thought deeply about how the benefits of my product might appeal to them in particular and help them, so I ‘packaged’ or organized the information to match the offer with the audience and when the contract is issued to the client, I am compensated. I bought nothing and I incurred very little expense in gas and auto maintenance. I offered a bit of my time, some creative thought process, but will be compensated in bringing the consumer to the provider. That’s something, a large value to both consumer and provider, created pretty much from nothing more than ‘an idea’. An X-box gaming system at a few hundred dollars and $50 per game conservatively is a lot of plastic, some silicon, some wire, and some programming code; a sum total of about $10 worth of material combined into something that people will pay hundreds of dollars to have and enjoy. That system produces nothing but ‘fun’ and started as a design idea. Value can be created from nothing.
Business and trade boils down to this one simple fact. Two people, one with something for sale, the other with enough money to make it interesting, get together (usually at a retail store these days) and the person with the money decides if they’d rather have the item or service for sale, or would rather keep the money. Nobody forced them into the store. Nobody forced them to carry their intended purchase to the register. Each party decided to trade based on the ‘price’ at which the store would part with the item or service, and the acceptance of that price by the person paying for it. It’s called free trade, free enterprise, or capitalism, if you will. Capitalism is the ability to ‘profit’, or capitalize, from your ability to provide what others may want or need. Some people will lead you to believe that there’s something wrong with that process. The same people who are likely shopping sales online with a credit card through a network of cell towers on the latest I-phone bought on e-bay… at a discount of course. The same ones who completely missed the irony train that just rolled through incessantly blowing its horn.
The reason you trade money for gasoline in your car is that you perceive the ability to drive your car fueled with gas more highly than the thirty dollars it took to fill your thirteen-gallon tank. The reason you pay one hundred dollars for a week’s groceries is because you perceive the groceries to be more valuable than the money you traded for it. If you didn’t value what you were buying more than the money you traded for it, you’d keep your money and look for a way to satisfy your wants and desires elsewhere. That’s not evil, it’s freedom!
It’s when nobody else offers what you want that prices start to get a bit difficult to take and you wish there was somewhere else to go for similar or competing service. Like another motor vehicle division or another Internal Revenue Service. There’s no competition when government is the only game in town, which is why prices rise and service suffers whenever the government seizes control of an industry. Transportation (roadways in particular), military spending, and education expenses are just a few examples. Sadly, if you have never snapped back from the acrid stench of totalitarianism or fascism in your nose, you can easily miss the sweet smell of freedom through a simple lack of anything with which to compare it.
Competition is not evil. What’s evil is when a terminal stage-4 cancer patient is handed a prescription for pain medication and instructed to go home and quietly die by their government appointed physician rather than have any more tax payer dollars wasted on a lost cause. When government services are the only game in town, there is nowhere else to turn. Patients with difficult cases from Canada and France routinely come to the US because the US is still the land of opportunity; the land of possibilities; the place where you can find hope. Just in case nobody ever explained it to you, “you can buy my widget which does more for less money than that widget over there”. Competition is a good thing. It drives prices down, and drives value up.
Yes, it’s a practical application of economics, but practicality hasn’t been taught in public school for years. Count the math and science credits a high school student needs to graduate and go and see a teen try to make change at a fast food restaurant. We put twice the money per student into the US education system on average over the next Western culture while holding thirtieth to fortieth place on the academic achievement scale per average student.
So in a broad sense, I believe that everyone at some level could use my help financially and may benefit somehow from my assistance. I hope I have a scope that large someday. I’ll know I’m successful to my purpose when I hear someone greet me and say, ‘thanks, you saved our marriage’. Frankly, money is a topic important enough that the tendency to avoid speaking of it in our culture needs to change. My new website’s slogan reflects this as it is labeled ‘…where I speak with friends about money.’
We need to become more comfortable dealing with the sensitive topics so that we can solve the difficult problems. Rome shared many of our current characteristics as a society just before the empire fell apart. Get comfortable with the topic. Learn a bit. Share some links for stories or video’s you found valuable and start a conversation with those you care about. You may be the only person who cared enough to open that dialog with them and the only place they’ll come into contact with a good financial skill set. It’s also easier to walk that path with some company. That’s why I do what I do.
When we have a common or at least basic understanding, then we can communicate. When we can communicate, we can understand one another. When we both understand, we can prosper together as we were intended to prosper. That’s why I continue to teach.
I wish you well in the achievement of your goals.
© 2017 David A. Pandone, All Rights Reserved
Penned April 27, 2017