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Taught by Others

Don Southworth

THE DEEPER I SETTLE into semi-retirement, the more I miss something that I didn’t realize was important to me: working with and learning from a diverse group of people. I was lucky that, for most of my four-decade career, I was employed by profit-making and nonprofit organizations that were committed to workforce diversity.

I miss how easy it was to be challenged and changed by difference. Sometimes, it was on pop culture. Sometimes, it was on something much more important. During my career, I learned how many things I take for granted as a white male: walking alone safely at night, driving without worrying about random police stops, making more for doing the same work, and the respect I got at work even when others deserved more.

Awareness of our society’s diversity seems especially absent from the world of finance. I was reminded of this recently when I spoke to a woman of color who was in her mid-30s. She’s beginning to learn about investing and financial planning. She was, of course, confused by the financial alphabet soup that we forget is a foreign language to most.

As I explained Roths, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, ETFs, ESG, cryptocurrencies and mutual funds, I was struck once again by how hard it can be for young people and people of color to break through the cultural, gender and class biases that often come with financial advice. Not everybody grew up with parents who invested in the stock market or even had a bank account. Not everybody today has the chance to own a home or has a job with employee benefits.

As a relatively old, white, heterosexual male, it’s easy to forget that any experience, advice or wisdom I bring has been filtered through my racial, cultural and gender lenses. I often assume that even those without a college degree can climb the corporate ladder or craft their own financial plan. But in most cases, that simply isn’t true. That’s why it’s so important to regularly interact with and learn from people different from me.

During my career, one of the best things I was taught was the platinum rule. Most of us had the golden rule drilled into us from a young age: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

By contrast, the platinum rule says: “Do unto others as they would want to be done to them.” It’s a small but powerful distinction. To help others, I first need to understand where they’re coming from. It’s especially critical when they’re different from me. As always, platinum is more valuable than gold.

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Hvltg
Hvltg
1 year ago

This article accurately expresses what I have experienced for years – being a person of color whose family never invested in the market or thought about retirement investments, it was a big challenge for me to learn all the aspects of wealth management and about building a diversified investment portfolio in the US. Humble Dollar has been a crucial part of building my financial knowledge. Thank you!

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
1 year ago
Reply to  Hvltg

Hvltg – Thank you. I also grew up in a family that never invested in the market, thought about retirement or owned a home and have been self taught. Thankfully I found people who helped & mentored me. I’m so glad you are part of this community and hopefully we can all help pass on what we have learned to others – especially those who have no mentors or role models and life’s odds are higher.

Last edited 1 year ago by Don Southworth
An
An
1 year ago

All to often the moral Golden Rule you state gets overridden by the more pragmatic Whoever Has the Gold Makes the Rules.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
1 year ago

Thanks, Don, for a thoughtful and insightful article. I’ve long believed that some sort of basic finance education in high school would be helpful and might pique the interest of at least some kids early on.

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
1 year ago

Thanks Andrew. I just read an article that the two topics we are least likely to talk about our death and money. We need to start talking and teaching about both in our homes and schools more and sooner than we do.

Bob Wilmes
Bob Wilmes
1 year ago

One of the most difficult things for me is to translate the ideas of risk taking to young people from diverse backgrounds. I did not have a safety cushion fallback when i was younger so I learned to take risks in incremental steps. Even when I got much older, I stayed up all night thinking about the biggest cash check I was going to write the next morning to buy a farm.

I think for young people, especially minorities, it is much more difficult to understand and grow their financial risk taking muscle. It’s not something necessarily that your family can teach you. The world needs more mentors like others here on Humble Dollar to share our experiences.

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob Wilmes

I hear you Bob. We need a greater variety of people of all ages, classes, cultures and colors to design the training and the coaching to reach more people.

Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
1 year ago

Great piece, Don, and you are in good company in your views. No less a person than Constitution-writer James Madison wrote that diversity was an essential necessity to preserving our system against tyranny (Federalist #10). If everybody has the same background or view, who is to say that an idea is problematic for others? On the other hand, if a number of people, all from different backgrounds and points of view, think an idea is beneficial, chances are more likely that it is. The first step, as you indicate by the platinum rule, is to make a space for and listen to other points of view. Well done!

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Wasserman

Thanks Jim.

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