Could there be value in frightening times?

This is a post written for inclusion in a project conceived by Jeremy Day of Insight Writer, on Creating Value.

All photos by Peter Wuebker.

Phpto by Peter Wuebker

I’ve been thinking about how much value there is in uncertainty.

Economic value grows when market prices soar and our stock portfolios and home values rise, right? Spiritual value is measured in the certainty of our beliefs, isn’t it?  Of course.

But there is far more opportunity to gain when we’ve been knocked off our feet.

What aspects does uncertainty have?

Economist Frank Knight, at the University of Chicago, tells us,“Uncertainty must be taken in a sense radically distinct from the familiar notion of Risk, from which it has never been properly separated.” Knight realized risk can be quantified, and therefore traded or bet upon, while uncertainty is not measurable.  If something can’t be quantified, can it be limiting?

Knight’s philosopher’s lens influenced his take on economic theory, setting the notion that capitalism produces what people want on its ear.  Knight believed the capitalist system creates the wants for what it produces: “the freest individual. in large measure a product of the economic environment that has formed his desires and needs, given him whatever marketable productive capacities he has, and which largely controls his opportunities.” Sound familiar?  What if we consciously systematized our wants?

Humans naturally seek to quantify and predict outcomes to justify emotion.  Measurable risk is the main factor we use in making decisions, from something as simple as whether a product that might contain an allergen to speculating our life savings on a business venture. If we can’t quantify uncertainty, might that work to our advantage?

Analyzing value

sea-shell-in-running-waterI might value by use, in that I have a trade-off to obtain it.  I might have to reduce my leisure time and work harder, or part with my savings, to get it.  Value by exchange associates what I might have to trade or barter to obtain.  Most economists agree that, selfishly, we tend to give up the least we can to obtain the most.  Price is arrived at this junction between buyer and seller – each revealing what they will part with in the transaction.

Transactional features apply to spiritual values and principles, too, although the currency of exchange may be different.  At what point are our values compromised or forsaken?  Might we temporarily suspend a principle as a means to an end?  Do our value systems evolve or become subject to influence?  How does the prospect of rapid change in circumstances strengthen or weaken belief systems that forged our creeds?  On what principle basis does our spirituality depend?  On what application of risk do we make the highest gains?

How does uncertainty produce a valuable outcome?

No one would argue we’ve been buffeted by waves of economic crisis.  The recent psychological shift with declining values has created a scarcity effect, where people have put the brakes on spending.  The consequence of “wait and see” has been an exacerbated stall. 

Uncertainty takes its toll on confidence, creating more fear in a dangerous spiral.  We’ve long fed the hydra by spending borrowed capital.  But opportunities for change have washed up along with it upon our shores, and more lie on the horizon.  The most confident among us will take action – starting new businesses, reaching out toward partnership, creating new ways to drive progress, inventing solutions.

What is enough?

Accomplishments, bank account balances, and accumulation have long defined our comparative stature.  With our natural tendency to sort and quantify has come self-definition by what others have, not who we and they are.  What would happen if, instead, we valued different riches?  Where would the point of sufficiency be?  Would there be “enough” to satisfy us?  What is “enough” principle to sustain?

I talked this over with my sister-in-law recently.  The less confident we felt, the more we were likely to focus on the areas where we didn’t measure up.  Indeed, “keeping up with the Joneses” was reborn after World War II out of 20 or more years of various forms of deprivation and making do.

In our conversation, we noted that “value,” and “validation,” while linguistically derived from the same root, were delineated by the concept of approval.  We want to be like, or emulate, so that we can sort ourselves and compare, and subsequently approve of ourselves.  We wondered: What if approval came from within?

great-horned-owls2We agreed without hesitation that “it can’t be about stuff.”  We’ve had to deal with stuff – our own and that of others – hauling it around, finding a place to put it, assessing whatever the best stuff is, assigning value to stuff based on sentimentality and wishful thinking.  This is the literal and figurative baggage we all carry.  We realized the strongest values are still light as a feather by comparison.

Carrying a suitcase full of passion, curiosity, service and gratitude through life adds no weight to the load.  Is this why those who are rich in these things can soar?

Uncertain times and outcomes provide opportunities to shed our burden.  Not only can we make do with less because we have to, but because we might choose.  When the going gets tough, the tough no longer go shopping.  Instead, they try on different ideas: reinvention, purpose, connection.

In crisis, there is the realization that the old ways of doing things led to the present situation.  A drastic shift into different models and attitudes is required.  Greater riches reside along the path of potential and discovery.  The mission is wholeness in body, mind and spirit. How, then, could we ever let a serious crisis go to waste?

What’s the downside?

Isn’t riding the storm of uncertainty out a safer bet?  Wouldn’t we be further ahead in the long run, or at least not have to dip into our principle(s)?  While it may be tempting to contract, there is greater risk within the status quo.  After all, status quo is what got us where we are.  If where we are today is less than optimal, why ever would we continue with the same recipe?

Uncertainty and crisis is a wake up call. Examining our principle – spiritual and financial, and using it to build even greater riches is the best way to spend the daylight we have remaining.  We can work on exciting new ventures.  And, we can focus on accessing and sharing our wealth of gratitude, connectivity, shared interests and contribution.

What do you value?

Where are you finding value these days?

Have you made lifestyle and/or values changes recently?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. says

    Uncertainty leads to interesting opportunities, and learning experiences.

    Thoughtful action in uncertain times brings change – invention – innovation.

    Status quo leads to stagnation of these things, to weakness.

    I say, bring on the uncertainty 🙂

    (Like when we exercise – if we do the same routine every day, all year, we plateau – if we mix it up, our gains are much more significant – and it is more interesting. We are more likely to keep exercising.)

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..a perfect storm.

  2. says

    Hi Betsy. Your statement, “Uncertainty and crisis is a wake-up call,” really hit home for me. It just makes sense. If you aren’t “awake” then you may not feel uncertain at all… ignorance is bliss.

    If you are awake that tells you that you are being called to make some changes, and as you say… shed our burdens — I loved this. As my grandmother used to say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When we are uncertain we can’t help but draw on our strengths or find new ones to get through.

    At this stage of my life I’m valuing the adventure.

    Davina´s last blog post..This Is Me, Then and Now

  3. says


    Yes, I thought of that “curse” too – I’m thinking now that the person who said that was heavily invested in bad companies or something!!!

    Brett Legree´s last blog post..a perfect storm.

  4. says

    Hi Betsy,
    Right now, I’m valuing connections. True and meaningful connections with others, and with that I’m also feeling abundance in my life. And I’m loving that feeling, in the midst of unrest in the world, abundance feels like it’s a good thing to have.

    I also like Brett’s comparison to exercise – and how it’s the uncertainty in it that makes us stronger/faster/quicker – much like life…

    Lance´s last blog post..Sunday Thought For The Day

  5. Betsy Wuebker says

    Hi Brett – Bring it on! Yes! The complacency that allowed the egregious excess that brought down the markets is a perfect example. The facade was great as long as everyone was making money. For some, the shock has been a little much. And I think of the old saw, “May you live in interesting times.” Maybe it’s not a curse, but a blessing? Thanks.

    Hi Davina – The adventure can be exhilarating, can’t it? We can’t look back and regret the undone. I love the idea of baggage filled with joyful attitude. So much nicer than hauling around the mental junk that is too easy to accumulate. Thank you.

  6. says

    I find that we often accomplish the most when things are at their most difficult. Maybe we feel that there is nothing to lose when most has already been lost.

    Personally I believe that uncertainty is always there. We may thing that we are sure of what is happening and what is going to happen but you never know. In a way change and uncertainty or two things that we can always count on.

    Kim Woodbridge´s last blog post..How to Make a Post Sticky in WordPress 2.7

  7. says

    Kudos to Peter for these amazing photos, and to you for your clear, fine gift of stating what we all need to remember: that uncertainty and ambiguity is nature’s way of keeping us flexible.

    Well done, Betsy! G.

    Grace Kleppin´s last blog post..Day 1 of going car-less

  8. says

    There is certainly value in uncertain times. They can present us with opportunities that would not have been available to us, when times are good. Uncertain times also teach us to have courage & practice more faith!

    Evelyn Lim´s last blog post..Benefits To Meditation

  9. Betsy Wuebker says

    Hi Brett – Funny how that “curse” has been so misinterpreted over the years, isn’t it?

    Hi Kim – I agree – you can go all out without fear of loss when you’ve got nothing to hold you back. Yes, change is a constant, and too many times we forget that, don’t we? Thank you.

    Hi Lance – I’ve read in many places that connections and desires to connect soar in troubling times. We revert back to what is elemental. When we perceive that we’re vulnerable, it’s either flight or fight, so becoming more versatile or flexible is a way to avoid disaster. You’ve listened to a primal instinct with connection, and recognized another, too! Thanks!

    Hi Grace – Thank you from both of us. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos – they seemed to fit this post, especially of raptors connecting or defending the nest. I agree that a flexible response to uncertainty is primal from the days when real dangers were around every corner. Thank you.

  10. says

    Betsy a very nice post and I love the grace of your words and explanations offset by the lovely photographs.

    I am reminded of two things as I read here, and they are the Quaker Community I lived with for one summer in Cape May, NJ They lived so simply and the joy and music was in direct relationship to the work of their hands and their hearts. It was such a valuable place for me and so full of those light baggage items.

    The second thing I am reminded of is something an economist said on the news: “if you did not have it 10 years ago, you probably do not need it now!”

    Good post.

    Patricia´s last blog post..Pooh Patrol

  11. says

    Patricia just sent me over to read your post as I have just had to let several employees go and it has unbalanced my thoughts of abundance and simplicity.

    I am appreciative of your thoughts and ideas and can take a deep breath and think this is good – the sky is not falling and the creativity must expand.
    Thank you

    Tom´s last blog post..Design like You Give a Damn

  12. Betsy Wuebker says

    Hi Evelyn – You’re so right. So many great things arise out of the combination of courage and faith. Thank you.

    Hi Patricia – Yes, simplicity was the cornerstone of the Quaker way of life, wasn’t it? I’m not sure about that quote – for instance, new inventions address needs that may not have been met 10 years ago, right? But, I do think there is value in keeping things uncomplicated for more clarity. Thanks.

    Hi Tom – The downside to difficult times: having to let employees go, or being let go. But now, at least, there may be a chance to set off in a new direction and follow their passion. Most people with whom I have spoken about lay-offs and firings think it was the best thing for them, ultimately. Hard to see at the moment, though. And…even though the sky may be falling, someone has to pick up the pieces, no? Good luck to you, and thank you for stopping by.

  13. says

    Finding value in my family and in my guitar and songwriting work.

    Love taking walks in the crisp air an smelling the after-rain on the earth. Hearing the birds.

    I must admit I have stocked up on brown rice, Cheerios and enriched soymilk “just in case.” In case of what? Disaster I guess.

    Jannie Funster´s last blog post..Twinkle Shooters

  14. Betsy Wuebker says

    Hi Jannie – And boy do we value your talent as well! I love your examples of enjoying nature. Isn’t if fun that the best stuff doesn’t cost much money at all? Thank you.


  1. […] If you’re new here, thanks for visiting! If you have any questions, use the Contact Page to email me — you’ll find a link in the left sidebar.Tim Ferriss At what point are our values compromised or forsaken?  Might we temporarily suspend a principle as a means to an end?  Do our value systems evolve or become subject to influence? – Betsy Wuebker on Passing Thru. […]