Roger Marolt: If the choice is to be a fool or a coward, be the fool
I will try to make this quick because I am afraid it could lead me back to a place I don’t want to be, a mental state on the fringe, a dark place where part of me was mentally self-quarantined during the last crisis that rocked our world, where fear and uncertainty turned my guts into something that made me careful to always make sure that the tag on my soul was properly tucked in place so that I didn’t head out into public accidentally turned inside out for the world to see where my seams were unraveling.
OK, that’s a little dramatic, but I really did lose perspective in 2008 when the Great Recession hit the planet. Fear was a persistent presence and, because it wouldn’t quit my side, I did make an uneasy truce with it for a time. The ironic thing is that fear did not serve the purpose I assumed it would. It did not preserve me or keep me safe. It did not turn me into the hero I hoped I would be in a crisis. It’s easy to believe we will stand up to fear when it is merely a concept, but when it becomes real and feels like it is replacing the marrow in our bones, I think most will cower to it, at least initially.
A twinge of those feelings is hovering. I can feel it. I hope this time it doesn’t invade my heart and soul like before. I don’t think it will. I am wiser. I know better what to expect. This time is different.
And yet, there is something about reading the news these days. Am I the only one who sort of looks forward to what the day’s headlines about the coronavirus are going to say? I doubt it. Everyone is talking about it, relating the latest stories they’ve read or heard. The most dangerous ones are becoming hard currency for purchasing credibility as a person in the know. We’re stocking up on emergency needs. People are hoarding toilet paper, for crying out loud. It’s like Y2K all over. Some thought that was going to be the end of the world, too.
Of course I’m nervous and the last thing I want is for this pandemic to gather steam and kill people and wreak havoc on the global economy, but it is interesting to follow, isn’t it? Maybe we believe the more we learn about it the less vulnerable we will be. I mean, there is some truth to that. If we only learn to wash our hands correctly and frequently, that’s probably the most significant thing we can do; however, hand-wringing isn’t part of that.
One thing I am worrying about are the stock markets completely imploding. The last time it happened in 2008 I thought my retirement and kids’ college educations were goners. I became really stupid and then I got really ugly inside. But it’s not the temporary loss of paper gains I am concerned about this time. It is the poison that potentially comes with pulling money out of the markets.
The strategy to get out and stay out until calmer times prevail is labeled as “preservation,” but what I learned from the last crash is that it is really ladling for gravy, which boils down to greed. The markets will eventually go up again and, if you simply stay invested and ride this storm out, you will end up with more than what you had at the peak we just fell off of. The markets’ continual rise over time assures this, until such time as Western civilization collapses and then we better be invested in our souls.
The last time, I panicked when the market was tumbling. I got all my money out about halfway to the bottom. I felt like a financial genius. What I didn’t understand is that to make money in a market-timing move like this, you actually have to be right twice, and it’s much easier to know when to get out of a sinking market than to get comfortable enough again to get back in.
The markets turned around and shot up faster than expected. I figured it was a dead-cat bounce and it was sure to crater again. I stayed out and the markets went up some more. I felt like a fool. I actually started resenting good news about the economy. I was hoping for bad news, to take markets back down so that I could get back in and recoup some of my losses. I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and realized I was rooting against the world to recover from the biggest financial calamity since the Great Depression. It was shameful.
It is easier than you might expect to get so tangled up in the news that we end up rooting against the common good. Look at some of what’s going on now. We have people hoarding supplies and causing shortages so they can have excesses when the time comes. We are fearing, or are at least suspicious of, foreigners. Some are hoping for massive suffering to bring about political change. And, I’m sure some are hoping the stock markets will continue to plummet, if only to punish the rich and/or to get rich themselves. In many cases the coronavirus is only an excuse for us to become infectious.
Be positive. If you need to worry, worry more about others than yourself. Instead of stockpiling canned food, leave it on the shelves for those likely to suffer more than you. Stay in your investments. They’ll come back and keep people employed in the meantime. Keep rooting for the good cause. We do not want to be foolish, but we don’t want to become cowards, either. Given the choice, I would rather suffer a little more with the fools.
Roger Marolt is not underestimating the coronavirus and hopes he’s not overestimating the strength of the human spirit, either. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.