Sunday, June 14, 2015

Preach What You Practice

I recently read something that caught my eye, “Preach what you practice.” I can’t find who originally coined the phrase, but I like it. We have heard the statement, “Practice what you preach,” usually in a self righteous rant attacking an opponent’s lack of perceived personal integrity. As I have grown older I have found hypocrisy is a more complex and nuanced problem than I believed it to be in my youth. Sometimes an action that appears hypocritical in another is motivated by values that are held by that person which are not apparent to you. In addition a person may sincerely believe in a particular virtue but find difficulty in applying those truths to his life. Unless he claims to be something that he is not, he is not a hypocrite even though his actions do not correspond to his standard of personal integrity. Rather than diligently seeking to remove a speck of sawdust from our neighbor’s eye or even contemplating our own failure to perceive and condemn our own shortcomings, let’s think about what we are doing in our life that works.

Then, let’s preach what we practice.

How we interact with the world is based on our understanding of the world. I will term this understanding your personal meta-narrative, a grand overarching series of beliefs and stories that create your world and are fundamentally responsible for your interactions with this world. Some of the stories we tell ourselves are useful others are not useful. Even if your meta-narrative contains elements of the truth about reality, if it is not helping you to create a better world for yourself and those whom you love, it is not useful. As for the truth, it seems a little messianic for any of us to claim we have the truth, at least in, “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” meaning of the word.

I have a friend who is a world class master craftsman. His work appears in famous hotels, like the Ritz Carlton as well as luxury condominium developments in a city where over the top perfection is barely acceptable. Along the way, he has trained numerous young men in his art, readily giving them secrets of his trade that took him over twenty years to acquire, even though he knows these young men will become his future competition. Why would he do that? Because he knows the importance of preaching what you practice. If it is really of value, it is an important step in making the world a better place.

I have spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to identify behaviors that are consistent with my beliefs as a Christian that are useful in the quest for financial freedom. Along the way I have learned that there are certain behaviors that are more likely to lead us towards financial freedom and others that just as surely lead us to poverty and bondage.

These behaviors invariably rise from the stories we tell ourselves.

I am constantly told that everybody has to be in debt. No. That is a story you tell yourself. You choose to be in debt, because on some level you believed that somebody else’s money could buy you happiness or fulfillment.

Most frequently this argument will be applied to the purchase of a house. Everybody has to have a mortgage, right? Well, no. I took out a mortgage on a three bedroom home because it was cheaper than renting a small two bedroom apartment in the Washington, DC area at a particular point in time. That worked out quite well for me. However, taking out a mortgage on similar homes in my neighborhood at another point in time proved a catastrophe for those unfortunate souls who bought into the 2005 housing bubble.

I have been told by Millennials that student debt is a necessity. No. It is not a necessity. It is a very dangerous free will decision that is likely to strangle your ability to take the next expected steps along the road of life for maybe, ten years. You just graduated with a mortgage, but without a house. That burden postpones marriage, children, and buying that first starter home. In spite of what your parents or well meaning adults (I have been guilty of this one) might tell you, a college degree may or may not be the best plan for your life. Perhaps you were born to paint fireballs and skulls on motorcycles or repair automatic transmissions for Mercedes Benz, an occupation that pays an annual salary in the low six figures. If you truly desire a college education there are many options to taking on $30,000 or more in debt. The best option for the average student not interested in spending time in the military is taking the funds from a Federal Pell Grant to a nearby junior college. If you kill it in a two year school, there is a good chance you will get scholarship or grant money from a state college. You can get a degree from a good school without debt even if you are not the valedictorian of your high school class. It may not be easy but it can be done.

How about the six year car note on the $50,000 pickup in your driveway? Nah, don’t get me started.

How about investing in Wall Street? Do I think for a minute that the stock market is an even playing field? No, but if my story ends there I will not have an opportunity to participate in just about the only place that an average American can build considerable sums of cash for dreams like retirement or a child’s education. Yes, Wall Street if filled with crooks and con-artists. However, consistently investing small sums of money in a diversified mix of low cost index funds over long periods of time will likely bring you to a point of financial freedom, perhaps a greater freedom to do good in this unhappy world than you imagined could ever be possible. Even building my own personal mutual fund out of a mix of boring, conservative, dividend paying stocks has produced pretty good results, though I doubt my personal insights beat the indices over the decades, I have followed both paths. I am here to tell you they work.

If the stories that you tell yourself are working, great! Share your wisdom with the rest of us, “Preach what you practice.” If your stories are surrounding you with a cold dark mess, understand that as you change the stories you tell yourself, you will change your interactions with the world that surrounds you.

And that, can change everything!

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