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PAYING THE FERRYMAN:THINKING IN THE TIME OF CORONA


Megan Fraser

Head: Business Development & Marketing

It has become common practice nowadays to accompany the delivery of an announcement, whether it’s breaking news, the weather report or a COVID-19 update, with a sign language interpreter. Recently, I was watching a languid Cyril Ramaphosa delivering an address and, in the corner of the screen, the sign language ‘speaker’ was doing their thing. I got to thinking that if I were not able to hear what the State President was actually saying and understand the language being used, I would be completely at the mercy of the signer. Ergo, there is enormous power resting in the hands of the interpreter, beyond being able to engage with the hard of hearing.

To ensure the PG rating for this piece, we’ll keep the analogy with the weather report. The Stepford wife delivering the weather report might be talking about high winds and expected downpours; where the sign speaker might be signing cats and dogs, singing in the rain or it’s raining men. They could even be asking their beloved to please take a chicken out of the freezer for dinner. If you are completely dependent on the signer, you don’t know what you don’t know…and similarly, if you don’t understand signing, you don’t know what it is that they are communicating. So, if you are party to a conversation, and you’re familiar with the circumstance, your expectation is that you have a reasonable understanding of what is being communicated.

In this scenario, if you are hard of hearing, there is not really too much choice about how to ‘listen’; and, as with many situations, there comes a time when you have to let go and trust the hands you’ve put yourself into.

This train of thought led me to consider the thrust and pull of being an intermediary in the investment world. They need to be confident that they are fluent in the investor’s ‘language’ and can safely and competently translate firstly the need, and then the solution. The solution will be sourced from an extensive smorgasbord of choice and so the intermediary must also be utterly fluent in that ‘language’. And bear in mind, that for the most part, this episode of the engagement is hypothetical; if that, then this, if this then what…?

And we have to be honest about the level of commitment of many investors to the process of investment advice. Many investors really like the idea of having a portfolio and having it grow…because what else is it going to do? …expectations are resentments waiting to happen. Very often, investors will be more thorough in their research into the decision between X-box or PlayStation than staying with the due diligence process for responsible investing.

So often what trips us up, is not knowing what we don’t know. In our haste to keep moving along, we very often skip the small print, the minutiae that is tedious and tiresome, and more often than not, karma is kind and steers clear of tripping us up. How many of us read the scrunched up Health Warnings inside the box from the pharmacy – not least because Clicks doesn’t make reading glasses strong enough to read print that size. But we pop the tablets, smear the cream, apply as necessary…and usually, no major side effects. But a nasty itch, swelling or sting will get your attention and all of a sudden Doctor Google is in the house.

While I was in this mode of thinking, I received a phone call from an investor who had read about the Gryphon funds in the press. She was irate because her adviser had not invested in them for her and she was absolutely adamant that there were going ‘to be words’. My first suggestion to her, was to be gentle with her adviser; we need to maintain peace at all costs, and secondly, what Gryphon does is completely different to what anyone else in the market does and it takes quite a lot of energy to embrace the mind shift. More importantly, what struck me about this investor, was that she was very clear on what she wanted; that was to earn what she was earning before she retired, which was inflation plus 2 or 3 per cent. That is specific, it is clear, it is reasonable and it is measurable. Are all investors that clear? If they are not, the adviser needs to get them to that point. As this feisty mama told me, she has to live with the consequence of her investments, not her advisor. She was prepared to do all the work necessary to be able to understand what she didn’t know.

So…this is not about the adviser…it’s not even really about the investor! It’s about us as human beings and our aversion to doing the necessary work. There is always a price to be paid; and that price is not always monetary/financial. It may come in the form of effort, inconvenience, discomfort or taking a deep breath, getting over your ego and admitting to yourself that you didn’t know/hadn’t considered that.

But it’s hard…being human is hard. We’ve been conditioned to thinking in a certain ways, we avoid the discomfort of being still. Alan Watts says, ‘muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone’…but often the reason we don’t want the water clear is because then we get to see all the detritus of ourselves at the bottom of that pond and leads to responsibility and accountability…our own! However, we need to get into neutral before we can change into a different gear. This Great Pause has given cause and time for stillness and reflection.

And here’s the catch…sometimes even that’s not enough. I’ve surrendered to non-dualistic thinking; that there is no right or wrong, only consequences. All our choices feed into the diorama we might call karma. So we make a choice and then we live with the consequences. If we find that the choices we made are not in fact in our best interest and/or do not serve us well, and if grace allows, we reconsider those choices and make new ones. And sometimes, with all the best intention possible, we still get burnt. But, at least in that case, you have peace of mind that you had done all that you could possibly do.

When the market collapses, or your funds don’t perform as you’d have liked, the distress is not the practicality of the numbers diminishing. It’s the collapse of dreams or the swamping fear that overwhelms and causes anxiety. And in the ashes and messiness of loss, the cost is greater still if we don’t learn the lesson. There is always a price, and the corollary to that is that there is always a lesson. Carl Jung said, knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.

We are going to have to pay as we learn…whether it’s the ferryman or anyone else; the greatest return/loss comes from learning/not learning the lessons we are paying for.

‘A man thinks seven times before he speaks. It's harder to make the glass than to break the glass.’ The Tao of Wu, The Art of Listening.

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