Could there be value in frightening times?
All photos 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. ..is 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?
I 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?
We 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?