As I’ve pondered the state of the world and the many problems we face not just in the United States but across the globe, my thoughts keep returning to three notable people–Confucius, Abraham Maslow and Adam Smith. As my mind pondered these individuals and the legacy each left, a number of thoughts bubbled up. Ultimately, a single question emerged: Can financial life planners save the world?
Sound a bit crazy? Bear with me and see what you think after reading this article. That premise–that financial life planners really can save the world if they really rally to the cause–might not be as far-fetched as it seems.
Confucius Had It Right
Confucius (551-479 BCE) had a kind of a genius in understanding what was wrong in the society around him. What he understood was that, in a way, the society as a whole was fragmenting. It was falling apart, it was more violent, it was more fraudulent and untrustworthy.
But more profoundly, what he saw was that a very simple re-direction–both in the family and in politics back toward the meaningfulness of those relationships and what gave them meaning–would make a huge difference. For instance he looked at the relationship between father and son, mother and daughter, child and grandparents, between counselors and the king, between the rulers and the people, the people and the rulers, and asked, “What are the obligations and responsibilities going back and forth that really have deep meaning?” Once he saw that you could bring society back toward that place of meaning, his boast was “Give me three years with the government and I will establish a truly and profoundly stable government.”
Another thing he believed in–and I know we will all say hurrah to this–was that the leaders have to be taught, trained and vetted on their own morality, their own honesty, truth, kindness, empathy, and other virtues. Those were really the most important qualities that a leader had to have and this included both the rulers and their counselors.
Think about this: Suppose the two most important qualities that leaders had to have are (1) they have to be truly virtuous people, and (2) they have to have enough mental power to grasp complex situations and deal with them effectively.
It’s simple. But it’s a pretty big idea–and much harder to execute than espouse.
So what happened? Most of us think of Confucian society as being a top down kind of thing. But Confucian society in a way was really more like contemporary and Western society than any society in prior history. Because of that belief in those two principles–virtue and the capacity to grasp complex situations–Confucian society valued education and merit in determining who governed. Rulers from the youngest ages were trained in what it was to be a virtuous person, and the counselors were educated and chosen based on their merits in terms of both their intelligence and their qualities as virtuous human beings.
So you had a pretty cool meritocracy. A basic lesson that we can learn from Confucian times is that: You want someone who can inspire by the goodness of their heart and their capacity to grasp complex situations.
How does all this relate to financial life planning? Well, I think that what we do, what we have done as a group, is that we have spotted a similar situation in the world–a world that is fraught with divorce, with wars, with poverty, and in the financial world itself with inauthenticity, fraud, and a sales culture that is not paying attention to meaning in a person’s life. And what we as a group have seen in the life planning movement is that there is another way, and if in fact we can bring the population, if we can bring people back to that other way where decisions are based not merely on self interest, but on self interest in a much deeper way, on what is profoundly personally meaningful, that in fact there is a restoration of appropriate values, not merely in the life planning or the financial planning community, but throughout the world, throughout all communities.
If we can create and demonstrate and live a model, if we can teach and train and inspire through a model that is convincing, that shows people that their lives could be so much happier and more fulfilled, mapping personal meaning in their lives against money, so that we’re delivering what is meaningful, that becomes a habit that goes everywhere money is encountered. We begin to think about it when we’re doing our idle spending. We begin to think about it in terms of government policy. If we model it ourselves as financial planners, we also become the new model. It is in part a spiritual model as well as a practical model for people; certainly a model as a mentor.
By really making this model stick, by creating the forms and the structures, I believe we can change the world.
One of my hopes is that the Registered Life Planner designation will be one of those forms and structures. My hope is that, by embracing this mark and what it stands for, we have a chance of changing things in a very profound way. Not merely the financial services industry, not merely financial planning and financial advisors, but the whole world in its relationship to money. That’s a very profound and very hopeful thing, and a very exciting thing.
Think of this: The Confucian model lasted for 2500 years. Who’s to say how long our model might go?