Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Bad do You Want It?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Do you want it? I mean, do you really—really want it? Do you want it so badly that you would be willing to sacrifice anything to reach your goal? Is quitting an option? Is failure an option? If you can quit or accept failure, you don’t really want it.

I’ll be honest. There have not been many times in my life when I wasn’t willing to quit or accept failure. Most of what I have wanted in life, I have sort of wanted. Sometimes I would get whatever it was I was after, sometimes not. Life went on. I was raised and trained not to take risks. I was told, go to college then find and keep a good job. I was told that living this kind of life requires a reliable trustworthy person with a reasonable amount of intelligence and self discipline. If you show up on time, do what it is that you are suppose to do, and avoid annoying management, you will earn a good living and after 30 years receive the proverbial gold watch.

I was not encouraged to put it all on the line, burn my bridges, and refuse to quit or compromise.

Still there have been a few times in my life when I could not or would not quit. Not surprisingly these are the times that changed and defined my life.

In 1969 I decided that I was going to marry the woman who became my wife. I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. It took over five years, but we have been married now for over 40 years.

I decided I was going to engineering school so that I could leave the American factory forever. I didn’t have any money and I was told I would be a C+ student. That didn’t matter. School became my job. If 50 hours a week wasn’t enough, I would work 60. I distinctly remember standing behind the university coliseum in tears, because after hours of focused effort I was unable to understand a calculus proof. I didn’t give up. I memorized the steps of these derivations just like I would memorize a page from a Chinese phone directory. Every time I wanted to quit I reminded myself about life in a saw chain factory. I graduated with a 3.8. I found a job in Research & Development.

I have enjoyed two major financial breakthroughs in my life. They both took about ten years of focused, conscious effort. I paid off the 30 year mortgage on our first house in a little less than ten years. During those years, I was earning a good living, but I choose to drive a 1966 Volkswagen without air conditioning so I could make those extra payments to principal. Losing that mortgage payment gave me the biggest raise of my entire life. All of a sudden I had an extra $1,100 for real after tax dollars in my pocket—every month--for the rest of my working life. All of a sudden I could pay cash for a sports car and take my wife to Hawaii for our vacations.

Then I started the final run to retirement when I was about 50 years old. Don’t make the mistake of starting that late. However, I went after that goal with a ferocity and passion that matched anything in my life. Losing 20%-25% of my money in 2008 only served as motivation to increase my efforts. I continued to invest all the way down. Then the market came back. In one year, through savings and capital gains, I increased my net worth by more than my total pretax income from my full time job. I was able to safely retire at age 62.

I don’t know what it will take to reach breakthrough. I wasn’t put on this planet to figure out how to live your life for you. You will have to ask yourself those questions and find the answers. How bad do you want it? What price are you willing to pay? What is so important to you that failure or surrender is simply not possible? When you find the answer to those questions, you will begin to change your life. I don’t know the secrets of success in your chosen field of endeavor, but if anybody is succeeding, you can learn those secrets. Unfortunately, one of the secrets is never, ever let anybody outwork you. Mediocre talent combined with fanatical effort will beat superior but lazy talent every time. Combine superior talent with a fanatical work ethic and you have Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. You have greatness.

I have just survived another one of those times when failure was not an option. I have finished all the heavy lifting I can perform that was required by our recent family emergency. It took about seven months of extremely serious effort complicated by a lot of very painful emotions. This experience thoroughly disrupted my life. I didn’t spend a lot of time working on this blog. I quit working on my book. Now it is time for me to determine how badly I want it. Will I return to making the kind of effort and expending the kind of time required to produce a quality blog? Will I finish my book or will I come up with a convenient excuse or two and quit?

What will be the story of my life? What will be the story your life.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Niche Marketing

One of the more peculiar stories currently covered in the financial news concerns the shakeups at MSNBC. Over the years this network, noted for its hard left attack journalism, has steadily lost viewer share until it has become a very serious financial problem. The more conservative news outlets seem to be enjoying a moment of guilty pleasure during their old enemy’s time of distress. The liberal media is mourning the death of their champion when they report that an MSNBC spokesperson wrote in an email, "We have a great brand," and "we will be staying true to our progressive voice while broadening out the issues we cover through that lens."

Some analysis seems to indicate that MSNBC was a great brand because they consciously and consistently appealed to a niche market, hard left progressives, during the Bush years and the election of 2008 relentlessly attacking anything and anybody in power. Once the Democrats swept the House, Senate, and the Presidency, they could no longer do what they did best. As MSBC mellowed they lost audience share. They were now competing with the more mainstream left leaning networks like PBS, CNN, the three majors, and major metropolitan newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Charles Cooke notes that FOX Broadcasting is doing well because they have remained true to their customer base, “Contrary to its favored claim, Fox is not in fact “Fair and Balanced” but is a rightward-leaning station with an ideologically driven owner, a clear target audience, and an obvious and pronounced set of political biases. Or, as one wag has put it, Fox is designed to appeal to “a niche market called half the country.” This being so the problem is less that Fox is “extreme” or that it is “out of touch,” and more that it is geared rather unsubtly toward serving one of America’s two philosophical poles.”

In Tribes, Seth Godin puts forth the argument that the proliferation of cable TV stations catering to particular market niches and especially the Internet have ended the power of mass marketing as we have known it. He believes that “tribes” of individuals interconnected by specific interests and ideas are out there waiting to find a leader. Whether that tribe rides Harley Davidson motorcycles or is patiently waiting for the second coming of the Occupy protests, Godin believes there are dragons to be slain and money to be made by the heretic brave enough to step in front of a tribe that is already on the move.

I have written that I believe the two most valuable abilities for the new millennium are entrepreneurial and sales skills. The era of the “good job” seems to be over forever. The future self created opportunities seem to lie with tribes not with government bureaucracies or major corporations. Although a tribe can become the most valuable corporation in the world (Apple) they all seem to start small. I remember when Apple sold computers to weird people who lived in their parents’ garage, playing with toys like expensive cameras and computers that couldn’t do much of anything. Responsible people used the Digital VAX or the IBM 360 to perform real tasks in the real world. Digital is bankrupt. They abandoned their “tribe,” engineers and scientists in favor of the business market. As far as I know, IBM is no longer in the computer business. They are primarily a computer services enterprise like their illegitimate offspring EDS and SAP.

Apple would do well to remember that what the tribe giveth the tribe can taketh away. I am just beginning to hear the first rumblings of discontent from long time, hard core, Apple customers. This does not bode well for the future of that great company if it becomes a trend.

Niche marketing is not limited to high tech. My mother-in-law lived in a senior high rise for about seven years before she died. During this time my wife would fly down to Atlanta to help, sometimes staying for as long as six or seven weeks at a shot depending on her mother’s medical situation. She didn’t want to drive a rental car in Atlanta traffic so she obtained rides from family, her mother’s friends, or she hired a taxi. The old people in the senior high rise really needed taxi service since many of them couldn’t drive or at least they shouldn’t be driving a car, especially after dark. The high rise only provided limited scheduled shuttle service. These old people were afraid that cab drivers would rob and kill them (don’t ask me why). Over time, some of the old people discovered a husband/wife cab company. They grew to like and trust these people, recommending their cab service to one another. Finally the management of the senior high rise started endorsing this cab service. My wife used this company for most all of her trips that weren’t covered by family or friends. I would guess, most of the old people in this facility were upper middle class to modestly wealthy. A cab company found a nice market of people who needed their service and were willing and able to pay for it.

They found their tribe.

“Yes, I think it's okay to abandon the big, established, stuck tribe. It's okay to say to them, "You're not going where I need to go, and there's no way I'm going to persuade all of you to follow me. So rather than standing here watching the opportunities fade away, I'm heading off. I'm betting some of you, the best of you, will follow me.” Seth Godin

Friday, February 20, 2015

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

We have a problem. We are limited, fallible beings interacting with one another in physical reality. Some of our beliefs are correct, that is they conform to reality. Other beliefs are just plain wrong. Some of our beliefs are empowering, some are limiting. Some of our beliefs lead us to become men and women of virtue and integrity. Others lead us into paths of wickedness, guilt, and shame.

We are not alone. Our situation is complicated by our interactions with everyone else living on this planet. A farmer in Ghana decides not to plant any coca beans this year. The following year the price of a Starbucks hot chocolate jumps by 20%. Jennie decides that she can live without her daily trip to Starbucks. The next year the price of Starbucks stock drops, forcing the layoff of 1,200 baristas. The unemployed vote then tips a close election in favor of a president who decides to intervene in a civil war in the Ivory Coast. The war spills over the border into Ghana. Our farmer becomes a casualty, reported as acceptable collateral damage.

We all develop maps to help us navigate our way through life. Some of them are pretty useful; helping us to enjoy healthy productive relationships with others; leading us to move towards financial freedom with integrity; allowing us to become a blessing to others. Some of us are using maps that limit our freedom or worse; they can lead us to eternal damnation. All of our maps, no matter how accurate or detailed, are limited representations of reality.

It is wise to remember that the map is never the territory.

While helping others find their own path to financial freedom (however they choose to define that term) I am frequently horrified by the belief systems I encounter. Often people suffering very real financial difficulties are engaging in self destructive behavior based on a frightfully inaccurate understanding of the nature of money.

Example: A problem with debt is never solved by a higher credit limit.

Even when people have an accurate understanding of reality; for example that the world system is controlled by individuals who do not have their best interests at heart. Yes, the powers that be want us to become their debt slaves and tax donkeys. Even given this accurate understanding of reality, the internal maps of suffering men and women lead them to false conclusions. So many choose to believe that if they just give their money or their freedom to a religious leader or a political movement, all their problems would be solved; at the expense of another.

Your problems may have been exacerbated by the actions of others, but your problem is your problem. It is unlikely to get any better until you take positive action to make it better.

It is hard to examine our own internal maps. Since our maps are, by definition, our standard for evaluating reality, they are leading us to conclusions that may or may not be the truth. Consider a man with an inaccurate timepiece that randomly gains or looses an hour during every twelve hour time period. What time is it? The man checks his clock. Does he really know the time?

At least consider the results that are generated when you follow your existing maps. Do they lead you to righteousness, peace, and joy? Are they helping you become a blessing to others? Are they leading you towards financial freedom or further into debt slavery? Are they empowering you to live the life of your dreams or are your excuses limiting you to a lifestyle of unsatisfying misery.

If your clock is telling you it is noon, look at the sky. Is the sun already sinking in the West? Do the shadows point to the North? In the Northern Hemisphere shadows will point to true North when it is exactly noon. If you know that sunrise will occur at about 07:15 this time of year, when it looks like the sun is rising check your clock. What time is it?


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Give a Child an Unfair Advantage

Almost thirty years ago shortly after I first moved to the Washington D.C. area I read a newspaper article about the family life of recent Asian immigrants in the area. Education was described as a family affair. After dinner the entire family would sit around the table in order to become educated Americans. The children were expected to teach their parents what they were learning in school. The older siblings were expected to tutor their younger brothers and sisters. Everyone helped everyone with homework problems. Since I had learned in Engineering School that the best way to really understand a subject was to tutor others, I knew that in a few years these children and even their parents were going to have an unfair advantage in many important aspects of life.

If you have children it is your job to make certain you have given your progeny an unfair advantage in life.

Start with your faith:

Deuteronomy 11

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The actions of parents are far more important than their words. If parents model a love of education, their children will likely grow up understanding the importance of an education. If parents demonstrate a strong work ethic combined with the ability to defer gratification, their children will likely grow up understanding that consistent hard work and thrift practiced over long periods of time will result in financial freedom. If parents demonstrate the importance of family and community when facing a sometimes unfriendly world, their children will likely develop strong ties with their siblings, cousins, and other members of their cultural groups that will serve them well in time of need.

Let your children participant in your investment activities as you discuss the purchase and sale of stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles. Make it a family event. I once read a very good basic investment book by a very successful stock broker. Every Sunday afternoon his extended family would get together for a meal. His father, uncles, mother, and aunts would argue the relative merits of different investment strategies. As he grew older he was surprised to learn this was not normal for all families. He believes his skill with investments was born in these family arguments.

It is no accident that the median household income of American-Asian families is $68,000 about 33% more than the median for all households. The Department of Labor reports that about 47% of Asian Americans work in management or professional jobs that require considerable education, as compared to 35% for the entire U.S. workforce. Studies indicate that unemployment rates for Asian Americans is lower than that of the general population because when they loose a job, they are quick to take lower paying jobs, sometimes jobs in family owned businesses. The Chinese have a history of family enterprise that predates this nation by thousands of years. Such corporations are based on Confucian concepts of duty, loyalty, and mutual obligations. They are operated for the good of the clan, the entire clan. During most of Chinese history the government was often so corrupt that the only trust was between family members.

Give your children this kind of unfair advantage.

It doesn’t end with your children. Proverbs 13:22 states, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” For a long time I wondered why the verse specified grandchildren rather than children. Why didn’t it read, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children?” The answer? The Law of Moses gives very specific instructions to a father. He is legally obligated to leave an inheritance to his children. The eldest son receives a double portion because he will inherit the responsibility for the other siblings as clan chieftain. The other sons each receive a portion of their father’s estate. If there are no sons, the father’s inheritance is passed on to his daughters. Solomon indicates that a good man goes beyond the letter of the law. He is planning to bless not only his children but he is denying his own desires to bless his children’s children. Perhaps in ancient times, the father would be buying his grandchildren farms and livestock or perhaps paying a master craftsman to apprentice a talented grandchild. Today grandparents might help with tuition to send their children's children to a private school or establish a 529 college savings plan in a child’s name.

I have read that in Biblical times if parents did not provide their child with a way to make a living that child was under no obligation to care for their parents when they were old and infirm. If you aren’t actively seeking to give your children an unfair advantage when they are young, what will they be able to do for you when you are old?

If you don’t have any children, it doesn’t let you off the hook. The Lord will see to it that children pass through your life. Every time you are given the opportunity, be a blessing! See to it that you share something of value with another person’s child.

Give them an edge, an unfair advantage.

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

The Buddha

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What is Growing in The Garden of Your Mind?

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.”

I was unable to locate the original source of this quote. It has been variously attributed to sources as diverse as Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi. However, I certainly agree with the author.

You give strength to your thoughts by dwelling upon them over time. You give strength to your thoughts by feeding them with words of encouragement; both those you hear and those you choose to speak. Eventually these thoughts will result in behavior. Your behavior over time hardens into habits. Habits become your life. The trees you have planted and nourished over the course of a lifetime will bear fruit. Is your mental garden likely to produce love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, and faith or a different kind of harvest?

Are you listening to or speaking words that pit us (the good guys) against them (the bad guys)? These words are likely to generate pride, hatred, acts of vengeance, and ultimately murder. Instead, can we find a way to reach out to others, offering them something that we believe to be of true value, with no preconditions; without strings attached; without attacking them or their beliefs?

All of us have suffered misfortune in this life. Some of us have suffered grievously unfair misfortunes as the result of the conscious actions of wicked people. Will reliving these calamities ultimately benefit us, or will they paralyze our life into an endless loop, reliving our worst experiences, over and over again? I believe it is natural to talk out these experiences until they begin to bore us. When they finally begin to bore us, they will loose their power over us. If after a reasonable period of time, these people and their actions are still exercising a power over your thoughts, your words, and your life it is time to take the drastic action. Forgive your enemy. Give your pain to God. This will not benefit your enemy. It will be of enormous benefit to you.

If you hear the words, “If only,” you are likely to be headed off into a never-never land of unfulfilled dreams and desires. This is particularly true if the words, “If only,” precede something that is already a weakness or problem in your life. If you have a problem with debt, your problem will not be solved by more debt. If you have a problem with overeating, your problem will not be solved by another jelly doughnut.

Are the people in your life telling you that you are weak and helpless or are they encouraging and empowering both in word and action? If we are honest, it is pretty easy to determine if our friends and family are lifting us up and pushing us forward or holding us back and pushing us down. Unfortunately, it is much harder to break off unhealthy relationships with close family members or old friends than it is to identify a toxic relationship. When dealing with religious and political leaders making this determination can become a harder problem. Hitler certainly made the German people feel powerful, but at what cost? Watch out for anyone in authority who is making themselves a powerful or an indispensible part of your life at the cost of your freedom or your money, or somebody else’s freedom or money.

Just for today make an effort to be more conscious of your words; what you think; what you speak; what you choose to hear. Are these thoughts, these words leading to freedom and strength or are they likely lead to dependence on something or someone else based on your weakness or inadequacies? Are these words likely to lead you into taking some kind of positive action that will better your life and the life of your neighbor or are they likely to lead you into a swamp of inaction and self pity? It might even help to write down some of your worst and some of your best thoughts. Such a list might give you an interesting insight into what is actually growing in the garden of your mind.

Philippians 4:8

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable; if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise; dwell on these things.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. George Mason—Virginia Declaration of Rights

In the United States we enjoy a significant degree of economic freedom, as well as a tradition that places a higher value on individual liberty than on equality of outcome. You can’t have it both ways. Freedom guarantees inequality. Kobe Bryant exercised his freedom to fully develop his physical abilities. He is currently the highest paid basketball player in the world. He earns approximately $30.5 Million a year.

Professional sports are just about as close to a pure meritocracy as exists in this unhappy world. No one is exploited. If you want to spend your time and money watching a game it is your business. No one is holding a gun to your head. These players earn their salaries. If they do not perform their ultimately function, generating ticket sales and television revenue for the team owners, they will not continue to draw those salaries for very long. Remember, when the salaries of the hockey players union exceeded the revenues generated by the league, the owners shut down operations until everyone agreed to a new contract. Companies are not in business to loose money.

There are forces other than freedom that distort outcome. In many parts of the world, really throughout most of human history, the freedom to enjoy the fruits of our labor have been constrained by coercion (force or threat of force) or distortion (inequality in the rule of law as the result of the influence of power or outright corruption). In my country, political influence recently resulted in the massive taxpayer funded bailouts of the major money center banks, insurance companies, and two of the three major American automotive companies. Our problems with skimmers and scammers are not limited to Fortune 500 companies. It is estimated that at least 15% of disability claims are fraudulent. I find this particularly despicable. That money is a critical, though inadequate, security net for the deserving. If there were fewer cheats, maybe we could increase payments to those who are truly suffering as a result of forces beyond their control.

We are all guilty to some degree. I haven’t heard many homeowners calling for the repeal of the mortgage interest deduction, the single biggest tax loophole. I want my Social Security. I was told that wasn’t a tax. Since I couldn’t be trusted to save for my own retirement, the Government in its infinite wisdom would put aside my money for my retirement. It would be returned to me with interest when I turned 65, no--whoops, let’s make that 66. The AMA is the most successful politically powerful union in the country. Medical doctors use their political and monetary power to limit the supply of medical care in this country. We all know about the law of supply and demand.

From time to time a homespun anarchist or an extreme Libertarian who made the mistake of drinking the Kool-Aid, learns that their interpretation of the Constitution won’t stop the IRS from using armed force to seize their property and their person. As the apostle Paul observed, the state does not bear the sword in vain. Unfortunately, in too many countries abuse of power is not an exception but the norm.

With the major exception of slavery and a bloody Civil War, overall we Americans have done a pretty job of protecting individual rights and liberty, including property rights which are a fundamental component of enjoying the legitimate fruit of our labor. Our labor is, after all, a large part of our life. Use the freedom that you possess to be a blessing to yourself, your family, and your community. Given realistic limitations (I am never going to play basketball in the NBA) as an American you can choose your own path in life where to live, where to work, and even how to worship your Creator (try that in Saudi Arabia).

I don’t know about you, but I am proud to be an American.

Romans 13:3-5

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.

For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Clarity and Compassion

I have been trying to remember when I began to consciously study the differences between what I choose to see and what was actually present in reality. When I worked as an industrial engineer at a bleachery, I was sent to school to learn how to perform time motion studies. This technique breaks tasks down into individual components. Each component is studied. Then the entire job is optimized and piece rates are set, allowing the individual employee an opportunity to earn a higher rate if they work at a faster pace (or not).

By the time I was a floor supervisor at a saw chain factory I understood that it was critically important to see what was actually present, not what I expected to see, not what I wanted to see, but what was really there. Over time I developed an eye to pick out small behavioral variations in my employees or an object that was out of place. Being able to identify what is essential with clarity and composure before making a decision is an important part of good management. No system, no matter how perfectly constructed, will work all of the time. The human element is an unpredictable part of the equation.

There are always people out there who will try to separate fools from their money and their freedom. How can you tell who to trust? If a politician is telling you that there is a great crisis that requires your sacrifice (but not his) be suspicious. If a politician is promising you some benefit that will be paid for by other people’s money, be suspicious.

If it sounds too good to be true……be very suspicious.

When making an investment, look deeply into what has happened; what is happening; and what is likely to happen. Watch the flow of money calmly, dispassionately, without judgment, remembering, “It’s only money.”

This task can be incredibly difficult. People are screaming that you can’t live without some luxury they are selling. People are telling you they have the magic box that makes money out of nothing. However, it takes your money to start the magic box process. People have very real financial problems that are threatening to overwhelm their lives. They have been disempowered by their own desires, a world system that is quite frankly constructed to enslave them, and the devil.

Yes, evil is real. It is actively involved in the world financial and political system.

But even looking for evil in others is a trap. We demonize our political opponents comparing them to Hitler and the Nazi Party, when they are really just our neighbors, ordinary sinners, trying to find their way home.

Evil does exist, but I think Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said it best.

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The same greed, lust, and hatred that dwells in the heart of your enemy can also be found in your heart. Understand your own weaknesses and limitations before making a political or financial decision. Don’t make a decision when your passions are running high. There is a very good chance you will live to regret it.

In recent days, we have seen an unqualified expression of evil in the Middle East. How can we tell what is evil and what is good? This verse comes to mind.

John 10:10 (NIV)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

If the focus is on robbery, murder, enslavement, and destruction you are looking at evil. If the focus is on empowering others to take responsibility for their own behavior and giving others the tools necessary for a better life, you are looking at—life—and at the possibility of a more abundant life.

It is hard to know where to find the balance. Evil is not to be tolerated. At some point it is necessary to take up arms against other human beings, whether it is a policeman dealing with gang violence or a nation state intent on mass slaughter in the name of God or some ideology. Even in those cases it is wise to extend compassion to others caught up in outright coercion or horribly distorted value systems (think of the Iranian army using twelve year old boys to clear mine fields).

Consider this quote from a prison interview with Hermann Goring, certainly one of the most evil men of the twentieth century.

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

A capacity for good or evil exists in every human heart. Spend some time today investigating the activities going on in your own heart, without fear, without judgment. Calmly, with compassion, study what is really present there in your innermost being.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Who Are Your Friends?

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Jim Rohn

There are some subjects that seem to keep coming up in my studies of personal finance. One of them is friendship. Who you choose as partners, friends, or associates as you walk your path is critically important to the outcome of your life. We didn’t get to pick our family members, but we do choose where and with whom we spend our time.

It seems sociologists spend a lot of time researching the obvious. Recent studies of human networking have proven that, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Go figure. Yes, humans are an intensely tribal species. We like to be around others who talk like us, dress as we dress, and share the same values and interests. These studies further indicate that your mother was right. She told you not to hang around with those no count neighborhood hoodlums because you would get in trouble. Yep, we mimic behavior commonly found in our peer groups. This even extends to weight gain. If you hang around fat people you will gain weight. The researchers don’t know if that is because you will eat more with your fat friends or because obesity is more accepted and people just quit trying, but this is an experimentally demonstrated fact.

The number one most important financial decision for most of us is the selection of a mate. It is a lot easier and cheaper to find a new job or earn another degree than it is to get a new wife and new children. But it doesn’t stop there. Where and with whom you spend your time will contribute to not only your success, but more importantly to your happiness. Ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” Who do you admire? What about their character, values, or gifts do you esteem? Which of these attributes could you emulate in your own life?

Seek out people who know more than you in areas you consider important. If you wish to become more “spiritual,” whatever that might mean to you, hang out with people who are more “spiritual.” If you want to learn more about managing your finances, find people who are doing a good job managing their finances. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.

A note to myself: If you want to lose weight, hang out with people are into fitness. If nothing else they will hold you accountable for your bad behavior.

Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Those closest to us, the five friends mentioned at the start of this post or the four friends who were so determined to bring their sick buddy to Jesus that they tore a hole in a roof, are of critical importance to the outcome of our mission, even our very life. Be careful. You need to find people that share your values and dreams, but there is more. You need to find people who will lift you up when you fall down or kick you in the backside when you need to keep moving forward, people who believe in you and your mission.

If you look at the life and ministry of Jesus, he had a “beloved disciple,” John. Jesus entrusted John with the care of his mother at the crucifixion. There were three of the twelve disciples that were part of the inner circle. John, his brother James, and Peter were present at the transfiguration. Of course Jesus founded his church on the twelve less Judas plus Matthias and Paul. Even our Lord was betrayed by one of friends. It happens. Beyond the twelve, Jesus had 72 (or 70) disciples whom he trusted with his message. This group included some heavy hitters including our Lord’s own brother, James who became the first bishop of Jerusalem.

If Jesus was careful about his selection of friends, shouldn’t we be concerned about who we let into our lives?

John 15:15-16

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.