It’s good to talk

Isn’t it weird how people steer clear of talking about money even though money is so important in our lives?

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was to encourage more openness around the subject of money, traditionally a taboo subject in conversations in polite society in the UK.

Why the taboo? Well, personal finance is, err, personal.

You can’t have a proper conversation about money without touching on values: people’s deeply held beliefs and priorities. Everyone is different and we all arrive at this point in time with different upbringings, experiences and backgrounds. These shape our money blueprint.

I’ve written before about the parallels between counselling and coaching. Doing coaching is a bit like therapy: you have to respect the uniqueness of the person in front of you, their values and beliefs and their right to make their own choices. You also have to be able to listen more than you speak.

So whether writing about money on a blog or talking with someone in real life, I try to be courteous, helpful and respectful…without sacrificing honesty or avoiding hard subjects. When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. Like many things in life, it’s a balancing act.

I’ve recently been spending a lot of time talking with new subscribers to The Escape Manual. Here’s a section from an email that one sent me this week:

Hi Barney

Many thanks for the Zoom call today.

I remember Jordan Peterson made a particular point about how one could only make a certain amount of progress sorting ones thoughts and ideas alone in one’s own head, real progress only being made in ones thinking when having to put it into words and up for discussion.

Thanks for helping me (re)order my thoughts!

This is a common theme and I often hear from my financial coaching clients: that in their normal life, there is no one that they can talk to about money, career and financial freedom. After all, it’s probably best not to share your FI aspirations with your boss. For me the first rule of FI club was: do not talk about FI club at work.

But it’s good to talk. We refine our thoughts by airing them and getting feedback / new ideas / new angles in discussion with someone else. We are a deeply social species (even us introverts). People learn best with a mixture of reading, discussion and encouragement. There are some things that you only figure out in conversation with others. Without this interaction, you can get stuck in a rut.

The problem is that today honest conversations seem harder than ever. CV-19 separated people into their own little bubbles and that harmed many people’s mental health.

Other factors include the political agenda of the News media and the blurring of the line between opinion and reporting. The rise of aggressive identity politics has focused people on what divides us and has lead to people treading on eggshells. As a result, in recent months, the quality of public debate (which wasn’t great before) has been hit hard.

As a result, the Public Square has become dysfunctional. What do I mean by The Public Square? I mean the place (or places) where public debate and discussion takes place.

Imagine a traditional (pre-internet) town square where people met in real life. When speaking face to face, we naturally take into consideration the person in front of us and their right to hold differing opinions. In person, we realise that screaming and shouting in someone’s face i) probably won’t change their mind and ii) might get us decked. Courtesy is the sensible option.

But now The Public Square is online and dominated by social media: by Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Tik-Tok etc etc. People have short attention spans. We now see the worst images and stories from all over the world, spread at lightning speed. People react (and over-react) in real time. Our stone age hunter-gatherer brains were not built for this environment and mental health is suffering as a result.

There used to be a set of assumptions held in common that allowed us to speak to people with different opinions. It used to be that you could read The Guardian and The Telegraph (or The Mirror and The Sun) and see their respective “take” on events. We might not have agreed with the other side’s opinions (I try not to think in terms of “sides”) but at least there was a common understanding of the facts, the events, the things that actually happened.

But now, the left wing and the right wing media often don’t even cover the same stories or events anymore. The tech companies are manipulating what people see in their social media feeds. It’s becoming harder to know what is real and what is fake news. There is no longer agreement over what the facts are…or even whether facts matter.

I’m a fan of America, its people, its constitution and some of its culture. But one of the lamest aspects of the UK now is wannabe Social Justice Warriors copying American identity politics and woke ideology. It seems like we need to be reminded that Britain and America are different countries. Just because we watch some of the same TV, that does not mean we have the same problems, politics or police forces.

Every action sparks a counter-reaction. I wonder if the Social Justice Warriors realise the long term harm they are doing to themselves and their causes as the silent majority slowly back away from them?

This week I got a private message on Twitter from a young (early 20s) female journalist approaching me for an interview. I took a quick look at their Twitter feed and saw their woke political agenda. They seemed surprised when I politely declined their interview request.

Pro tip: If you noisily promote organisations that scapegoat white men and want to smash capitalism, defund the police and dismantle the family etc etc, then don’t bother asking me for special favours.

Free speech is fragile because a small but noisy group of fundamentalists or activists can shut down everyone else. In Skin In The Game, Nassim Taleb shows how 2% of the population can dominate the remaining 98% if they are much more militant about an issue and they shout loud enough / create mobs / use violence.

I’ve been blogging long enough to realise that some people are not interested in genuine debate, they just want to shut you down. As time has gone by, I’ve got fed up with humouring trolls. I’m just not interested in arguing with anonymous people on the internet. I’m interested in helping real people that want to learn and improve. 

In times like this, where The Public Square does not work, we need new ways of talking honestly to each other. It’s now more important than ever to have good friends, mentors and / or networks of sensible people you can talk to and share problems with.

People sometimes write about “the FI community” when what they are describing are a set of online, anonymous blogs. Well, blogs are all very well but they’re not community and they’re no substitute for face to face conversations with real people in real life.

Before CV-19, I arranged real life meetups where people could get together and talk about financial independence. Looks like those aren’t coming back anytime soon, thanks to a culture of safetyism.

What can I do about all this? Well, not much but something. I have just started The Escape Group, a private Facebook discussion group for all things related to financial independence, getting better with money, getting out of debt and anti-consumerism.

People from all backgrounds and all beliefs are welcome. Any member can post / start a discussion. It’s not political and its not an echo chamber (only losers join cults). Content wise, anything goes within reason because I believe in free speech and in trusting people to be courteous, helpful & sensible.

I only opened it yesterday but already it has >300 members. If you’re already on Facebook you can check it out (if you’re not, no need to join…I’m not promoting more social media usage!).

Love and peace to all

Barney


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3 comments

  1. I could not agree more. People have stopped listening to and talking with. Now they just talk at. I looked at the Joe Biden issues page last night. If I didn’t know better I’d be INFURIATED with Republicans! It was hugely misleading and manipulative. I’m sure the Trump page is no different.

  2. Great post! Morgan Housel in his recent short book The Psychology of Money- makes the same point about everyone brining their unique perspective, experience and blue print to the financial party. Well worth picking up a copy. Best £10 I’ve spent in ages.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with a blog post if I wrote the thing myself!

    Douglas Murray is a great writer in amongst the biased crap that’s out there now. His ‘The Strange Death of Europe’ was eye opening (even for someone who voted Remain like myself).

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