Tao (the Way) not Dow (the Jones numbers) for Financial Serenity

Tao. Dow. Both are pronounced “dow,” but here the similarity ends.

“Tao” means the way, path or guiding principle for working with faith, integrity and meaning in a mysterious universe.

The concept of way, path or guiding principle is central to all religious faiths and secular philosophies — not just the ancient faith of Taoism. We may get lost in ethical fogs or illusion, but through prayer or other pathways, we can find our way back to what most matters. We can find wisdom through patience and by reconciling seeming opposites, like our need to earn money while also caring for others.

In any true tao, paradox is the norm. Example: sometimes the best way to deal with a time crunch is to take more time for prayer or meditation. In the timeless space of ultimate reality that is beyond words or even thought, we generate new insights for the challenge of the moment.

The “Dow” is a rapidly changing bunch of numbers that has been endowed with the perception that it offers great financial wisdom.

“The Dow” stands for a constantly changing index of stock prices selected by the editors of the Wall Street Journal, published by Dow Jones & Company. It’s supposed to measure the financial worth of “the market.” Stocks up, Dow up; stocks down, Dow down. Dow up, good; Dow down, bad.

The Dow is not an intelligent creature. It’s “subject to panics and irrational exuberance and sour moods and churlishness and massive misjudgments. To judge whether an economic plan is working or not requires time and wisdom – neither of which are found in the daily results of the Dow Jones Industrial Average,” writes Joe Campbell. http://2parse.com/?p=2307.

Stock prices make no accounting of environmental or human costs of production or benefits of goods and services. Often the higher the stock price, the lower the human or environmental benefit. And often, stock prices have little or no real relationship to the actual production of goods and services.

Yet many individuals, driven by many media, are obsessed with stock numbers. Jon Stewart satirized this by suggesting that Obama should wear a visor showing the latest stock prices whenever he speaks. http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=220253&title=The-Dow-Knows-All. That way even the laziest viewer could stay focused on “what matters” without having to move focus from Obama to the latest stock numbers.

The Dow is often a powerful catalyst for decisions that take us away from true prosperity.

Can you imagine having to run a business with your eye constantly on stock market prices, not on the true worth you are creating for customers? And knowing that by squeezing costs — no matter the harm to others or the earth or even your own company over the long run– you raise your perceived value and access to capital?

Well, that kind of consciousness has run rampant the past decade, and everyone has suffered from it.

The health care crisis is just one example of how harmful stock price obsession can be. As health insurance whistleblower Wendell Potter reports, “I knew that 47 million people were uninsured, but … in the financial medium, what you think about are the numbers … and whether or not you’re going to meet Wall Street’s expectations.” http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/07102009/transcript2.html?print

On June 24, 2009, Potter testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that as a senior executive at health insurance companies, “I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick – all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors.”

The impact of this is an awful truth: between us and our doctors are not just health insurance executives but also Wall Street investors, forcing the health insurance companies to force doctors to cut costs so investors can make higher profits.

We need a tao or way to deal with the realities of money that is more meaningful, conscious and beneficial.

Countering this trend of 24-hour Dow obsession are a number of movements that will be discussed in future posts, especially socially responsible investing and conscious capitalism. All mean that we don’t just buy based on price and momentary gain, but we invest longer term in products and services we care about, that provide real good to us and others. We invest more in smaller, local companies that we can know better.

Any tao of money management will require us to relax self-will and be more engaged in something bigger than ourselves, which is a lot more conscious and engaged process than the 60’s definition of tao as “go with the flow.”

When we’re open to it, guidance to find and follow our tao is everywhere. Some of my favorite gems come from Jon Stewart’s 2004 commencement address to our common alma mater, William and Mary:

  • So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this. You won’t. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience.
  • [The] truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain.
  • Success is defined in myriad ways. [It] will come from your own internal sense of decency .
  • Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

What wisdom guides you on your path?

As always, many blessings and come back real soon, Pat McHenry Sullivan

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