Young & Prudent: Talking About the Last Taboo
It’s the age of openness and sharing.
My fellow Millennials and I are comfortable talking about our feelings of inadequacy, relationships dissolving, sex, precious moments with the ones we love, and our stance on public issues – with strangers and friends alike. Nothing is off limits, really.
Nothing that is, except money.
“Money is the last taboo. People will talk about their sex lives before they discuss their finances,” said Marvin H. McIntyre, journalist and presidential secretary to Roosevelt, in his book Insiders.
This observation still holds true. A Wells Fargo survey from February 2014 found that almost half (44%) of those surveyed find personal finances the most difficult thing to talk about, even more than death (38%), politics (35%), and religion (32%).
This is despite the fact that two out of five of those surveyed say that money is the biggest stressor in their life.
This reticence is a problem. If we don’t talk about one of our most important resources, then how do we know how to handle it?
In our culture, you either work in finance or you know nothing about money.
We see the financial expert as someone who loves money above all else, even at the forfeit of any sort of philanthropic causes. It’s as if they have been gifted some secret information about managing money to which the average person isn’t privy.
No one else concerns themselves with money because there’s no room for it in a meaningful, adventurous life. Being concerned with money and spending a lot of time educating yourself on it is considered “selling out.”
These are stereotypes of course. And as with most stereotypes, reality lies somewhere in the middle. Still, this rigid view greatly influences our current way of talking about money.
Most millennials don’t want to spend a lot of time managing their money. Building up immense wealth may not be a top priority for my generation; but, my peers and I would like to know we’re doing the best we can with what we have.
“There seems to be a lack of synchronicity, a separation from the financial self,” says Solomon Halpern. Halpern is the President of Highlander, a mindful finance company, and has been teaching mindful leadership and meditation to children and adults for over 20 years.
“People tend to not want to relate to their financial lives. They will do the bare minimum and avoid it subconsciously. They develop subtle prejudices against it and don’t see it as a place where they can grow.”
But, why? What’s really stopping us from examining and talking about money?
To start, money is a highly charged area of life. Societally, we’ve agreed that there’s a lot of value in being financially successful.
Thus, it’s not surprising that people feel ashamed for not being as successful as they perceive others to be.
“People often feel like they are doing something they shouldn’t, or should know something that they don’t. So there is a lot of embarrassment around money and planning,” says Halpern.
This isn’t surprising. There’s no real formal training on how to manage your money, unless you decide to focus on it in higher education. And given what’s at stake, this is a real shortcoming of our culture.
Money resides right at the primal survival level in our minds, because it dictates our access to food and shelter. Thinking about losing or possibly not having enough of one of the most important resources for survival can induce a lot of fear in people.
It’s easy to want to avoid this fear and thus avoid talking about money.
Riding the Fear
In Buddhism, it is taught that to become fearless you don’t get rid of fear or overcome it, but stop resisting it and get to know it. You sit with fear and learn to understand it.
It’s extremely challenging, takes constant effort, and seems to go against our basic instincts. But resisting the urge to avoid fear leads to curiosity, which is very useful when talking and learning about money.
“When you have curiosity and a desire to learn, the whole situation becomes more open and workable,” says Halpern.
This curiosity can lead to a clearer, non-judgmental state of mind. You see your past mistakes, but instead of getting worked up and caught by them, you learn from them. You can then approach managing your money with a higher level of intelligence that isn’t stifled by fear or shame.
Halpern says that when people become curious they’re less afraid to really look at their financial situation, learn more about financial options and tools, and take steps toward improving.
“People are really smart about money if they are given the space and the permission to feel their experience,” he says.