Social Conditioning or Sophisticated Choice?
The word gamble triggers many childhood memories. I remember watching the classic Saturday movies in the 90s with scenes of New York mobsters collecting the souls of penniless debtors. And then there was Sundays in church. I can still feel the hard pews and the tension of the guilty souls wanting to obtain favor and a blessing from an invisible God. Preachers of every cloth crafted gripping messages but at the conclusion of delivering the ‘Word of God’ – payment was due. Pastors condemned casinos while cajoling ‘faith-based’ parishioners to toss their money into collection plates and expect nothing in return based on vague notions of potential blessings from above.
Religion is an interesting tool because it can be used to bypass critical thinking and embed ideas deep within our emotional network. It can spark the spirit or snare the soul depending on how it registers within our psyche. Humans are social creatures and how we’re conditioned in society greatly impacts the way we see ourselves and others and how we govern our interactions.
Money is foundational to the day to day function of most people on the planet. Morning coffee, transportation, child care expenses, school, medical bills, utilities, rent and mortgages all require money. Most parents want their children to be able to eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We all want the same. Food is essential. Well, food costs money so that means money is absolutely essential. But in America money can be a taboo topic.
As a young adult I still attended church and I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase “The Lord will provide” in the context of some financial problem. When people said this, they were usually leaving their situation to chance. If some goodwill or fortune intervened they would praise God and if not they would say the devil attacked them. The reality was that our church was in California and most wages did not keep up with inflation and housing costs. Strained budgets would then break the bank with the church tax (tithe) of 10% every pay day. Most people did not have enough expendable income and reserves to resolve significant financial disruption.
If the light bill is paid, the lights stay on. No one attributes normal bill payment to God or the devil. Bills are only stressful when you don’t have the funds to pay them. When there’s enough money to pay the bills, neither God nor the devil are evoked. It stands to reason that more focus should be put on improving our financial literacy and asset building to lessen the risks and pain associated with a weak economic position.
Our society can develop more holistic and efficient models around money if more individuals are willing to increase their self-awareness and question their conditioning, especially as it relates to money. I highlight the Christian church in America because of its broad social impact and political power dating back to the time of enslavement.
Much of the dogma and misnomers spread during the colonial era haunt the average American in today’s economy. Slogans like ‘America First’ or ‘Make America Great Again’ feed feelings of international and domestic superiority that induce hollow ingenuity and mass mediocrity. It may sound good to the ego of some and inflate feelings of perceived strength but it weakens the subjects resolve to scrutinize or hold political hustlers accountable. From street corners to churches all the way to the White House, this dynamic is universal.
Socially conscious investors must be diligent and resist these manipulative ploys that rouse visceral emotions but do not deliver relevant positive outcomes for those being played. We should always be analyzing and critiquing and ensuring that a win-win-win philosophy governs our approach to solving difficult issues. Education is continuous, research a must, but there’s no place for mere assumptions, fealty, or cognitive dissonance.
Observation Over Belief
Belief doesn’t require much. Simply accepting what you’re told is sufficient. While being persuaded can be difficult, once a person believes, research, source validation, and vetting are not requisites to satisfying the concept of belief.
As an investor I categorize beliefs into 3 buckets of assumptions:
- poorly researched
- prematurely accepted
The first two are self explanatory, but the third has to do with getting information and data and forming conclusions without fully respecting the limitations or the sourcing of the material. For example, you read that getting comparable prices of similar homes sold (comps) within a one mile radius in the last 12 months is a good way to figure out a value range for a fix and flip property. Comps show that the unit should sell for at least 200k after repairs and you needed the price to be at least 190k to turn a healthy profit. You make an offer and purchase the property for 150K however your stomach sinks when the appraisal comes back at 180k. Your deal just became a nightmare. There’s not enough equity to get favorable loan terms and no wiggle room for issues during the construction.
What happened? You ran the numbers right? Yeah, but your source was Zillow. It is great for doing a scan of the area, picking up general county info but not for tracking all of the actual sales within a period of time that affect market valuation. Zillow should be used as a scanning tool, not a diagnostic feature for your deal. You should always get comps and a broker price opinion (BPO) from a local realtor that knows the property.
In this hypothetical, you did your research but didn’t understand the limitations of the source you used to get your facts. You believed the information was good. What you should have done is run comps in Zillow but verify them by having detailed comps run by a realtor and get a BPO from a separate broker.
Validation is a process of checks designed to confirm or flag sources of information. If an investor wants to ‘just believe’ the numbers are good, then they’re gambling and their risk of loss increases. It pays to double and sometimes triple check as an investor.
Observation is quite different from belief. Vigilance and continuity are implied. It is not passive. You have to actively pay attention in order to observe. Expanding our ability to detect opportunities, identify risk factors and dynamics, and recognize which professionals need to be enlisted is foundational to our work as investors. Just like the scientific method, systematic observation is a critical documented step. Asking questions, running scenarios and planning for problems ahead of time are skills that help investors build profitable assets instead of acquiring costly setbacks.
Entertainment, Tithes, and Lotteries
My conditioning around money as a youngster was heavily affected by popular culture and religious sentiment as well as the awkward moments where my request for lunch money would generate noticeable hostility from my mom. At the time I thought it was absurd to get mad at a request for 3-5 dollars. I didn’t realize how emotional money issues were. Especially because financial education and self-awareness was not, and is not, a part of basic school curriculum in America. As a young adult it took years for me to untangle the web of poor socialization, religious dogma, and cultural taboo which shaped how I deployed the dollars I earned.
According to most Christian churches, the love of money was evil but God wanted 10% of the action. As a reward for my gamble or taking a chance on the ‘Word of God’, God would allegedly bless me and send me more money or opportunities. Theoretically I could rinse and repeat until I became financially secure. This hustle was so effective because the doctrine of ‘faith’ meant giving without asking questions. Without asking questions a person cannot critically think to gain competent knowledge or understanding. Without understanding it’s impossible to be a wise steward and this observation helped me break free from the tithe hustle.
Casinos, lotteries, sports, and the entertainment industry are so enticing despite being low probability opportunities. Even though few will strike it rich, millions will exhaust their resources just for a chance to ‘make it’. Millions hoping to get lucky at casinos or hit the lottery inevitably end up spending thousands more than they ever win during their lifetimes. Sports elites can easily be overlooked or sidelined due to catastrophic injury. Entertainment is a finicky industry and most will not end up where they imagined. What all these pursuits have in common is that they have the potential to earn windfalls of cash.
Chasing a dream or a quick buck can be exhilarating. In my view there is a place for all of these activities but we need to establish ground rules so that pipe dreams don’t turn into nightmares. We need to establish a generational approach to money that prioritizes research and asset accumulation over spending.
Gambling and investing should be done with a restricted amount of resources. It should be budgeted. If you have 1,000 dollars to spend, then that’s it—do not spend $1,001. If you go over your budget then you need to take honest inventory of why you violated your own authority. Please seek help if you struggle in this area. Reach out to a coach, or a counselor, or pursue professional help if you have an addiction or disorder. There’s nothing wrong with being proactive on this front. You can still invest but protocols may need to be put in place; such as a fiduciary that acts on your behalf or a coach to help you discover the root of your intentions when spending.
In America most citizens are financially inept. Most Americans don’t own stocks or invest in real estate but we can change these statistics. Each of us can choose to invest some time into become better informed and more capable. If enough of us do this it can transform aspects of our culture and society.
Please use the self-improvement books and resources that are out there. The point is to exercise discipline and restraint which is a fundamental attribute of a socially conscious investor. You are the CEO of your personal actions and agenda. Healthy boundaries begin with respecting and executing your own rules. As an investor you should take advantage of any third party resource that helps you remain successful.
Whether it’s maintaining integrity with a partner or choosing how to address a problem, self-control pays dividends in helping you develop and maintain quality endeavors, relationships, and happiness.
Socially Conscious Entrepreneurs
I hope you’re encouraged to reanalyze your system of thought and organize it in a way that leads to better stewardship in your finances and other aspects of your life. Be willing to apply the time and energy it takes to do an excellent job and don’t use belief as a substitute for exercising greater thoughts that produce creative and innovative solutions. Grow your observation and critical thinking skills to develop and improve your system of choice and avoid the inconsistency and errors of a cemented belief system.
Humans are physically weaker than most other primates but our greatest evolution has been the level of imagination and consciousness that we replicate in the world. No other species creates cities or planes or PS4s lol.
We are highly complex, yet we get tripped up and hustled because of misplaced or misused belief. We should believe in each other, hope, imagine but not to the point of allowing fiction to govern our choices. If we’re bold enough to question the things we believe, then we can shed the emotional crutches we think we need which will free us to make a higher choice.
Socially conscious investors choose to be good stewards of ourselves, for others and the planet simply because that’s what we decided to be. That’s power. That’s rulership. We don’t gamble with dogma. We choose our purpose and set our agenda. We are the difference makers. We are the answer and the solutions are contained within us. This is the energy that propels many of us everyday as we benefit ourselves and others in the global community.
Regardless of our beliefs, cultures, and preferences we are committed to shedding any unnecessary barriers to our collective improvement and always
strive to create win-win-win scenarios everywhere we go.
Don’t leave anything in your life to chance. Don’t shortchange yourself or others. Be intentional about investing for generational wealth secured by positive stewardship. Reconfigure your thinking and–change the world–as you implement a system of sophisticated choice.