Pause to Listen

Personal Money Planning |

By Gary Silverman, CFP®

My column last week was supposed to have started an ongoing series about how to protect yourself—meaning your money as well as your person—as we move forward. But given the events that were happening and what was getting pushed to the front page at the time that article hit the newsstands (ask your grandparents to explain those terms),  I’ve been moved to comment.

“Blacks,” “Hispanics,” “Asians,” “Whites,” “Poor,” “Rich,” “Democrats,” “Republicans,” “Mask-wearers,” “non-Mask-wearers,” “Jews,” “Christians,” “Muslims,” “Men,” “Women,” “Californians,” “Southerners,” “New Yorkers,” “Immigrants,” “Baby Boomers,” “Millennials,” “Liberals,” “Socialists,” “Conservatives,” “Owners,” “Workers,” “Unemployed,” “Gay,” “Straight…”

These and a myriad of other words are used both to describe and to separate. Unfortunately, these descriptive words often disintegrate into generalizations…often gross over-generalizations. It’s like the words never and always; often used, seldom correct. Think of those true/false tests—I hate those; I can usually think of an exception.

When a comment begins with the words, “Those people…” what’s said is likely to be brewed in ignorance and topped with prejudice. Generalities tell you nothing about the people you interact with.

“Jews are good with money,” they say.  “Jews are cheap,” says someone else.  Full disclosure, I was raised Jewish, and I’m not sure how you’d prove either of those statements. But even if they were true what are you supposed to do with that “knowledge”?  I have known Jews who were good with money and those who were not. I know some who are lousy tippers and some who think a 25% tip is not nearly enough.

“Asians are good at math,” I’ve heard, along with, “Women, not so much…” If that were true (again, I have no idea how you’d prove it), that tells you nothing about the person in your office. I’m a male with a fair amount of Asian DNA, but when we needed help with some rather confusing algebraic problems in our office, nobody turned to me to figure it out. That was Becca’s forte—Becca who is female with a fair amount of European DNA. 

And we’ve heard these: “Blacks commit more violent crimes.” “Big cities are more dangerous than small towns.”  My experience: my (Caucasian) wife and I (Caucasian-ish) lived in urban areas with larger black populations for decades, and it wasn’t until we got to Wichita Falls that two white guys mugged her.

Stop grabbing a statistic, a fact, or a quote to justify your prejudice, good or bad. Statistics, facts, and quotes without context are of little value. As the saying goes, a little knowledge can be dangerous.

Listen to people you don’t agree with. But no fair just listening to ridicule and berate. They believe what they believe for a reason, no matter how unreasonable you think it is. See it from their eyes, from their experiences.

We will never truly know what it’s like to wear the others’ moccasins. We will always have disagreements. Misunderstandings will happen. But none of this justifies reacting to the individual because of the categories we put them into, unconsciously or not. Especially when precious lives are on the line.


 Gary Silverman, CFP® is the founder of Personal Money Planning, LLC, a Wichita Falls retirement planning and investment management firm and author of Real World Investing.