My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes
I made while learning to see things from the plant's
point of view.
-H. Fred Dale
Financial planning's inception and growth is no accident. It has been the product of historic necessity, fair winds and the demands of our times. Folks need friends in the money business. Money is a sufficiently intrinsic part of modern society that we need educated professionals addressing it from the social cell perspective. Even in these times, most people cannot see the obvious connections between money and the forces that shape their lives. As the saying goes, "What do fish know of water?"
Financial planning has come into being in large part to help people understand these financial issues and make decisions appropriate for the lives they are living. Yet right now, financial planners are still using terms mostly generated by the field of macroeconomics. This could be compared to developing the field of psychology primarily using only the words of sociology and political science. As with psychologists, clients come to us one at a time with unique issues. We need words with perspectives on money and its relationship to individuals.
Part of the problem, we acknowledge, is that this profession did not arrive fully grown and matured. Rather, it has been slowly growing its garden of knowledge from seed. Frankly, this garden remains immature. Not only has it lacked the vital root structure of more established gardens, it has had to endure resistance from hostile forces and harsh conditions from its beginning. Powerful forces want us to look at our world their way. And a thoughtful and fertile vocabulary has been missing from our world.
I have an aspirational view of the financial planning profession. I believe it is special. Indeed, I am becoming ever more convinced that either it-or a logical, functional successor-will be the most important, authentic profession of the 21st century.
Accordingly, in my last Financial Advisor article, I called for us to develop and use new words for addressing issues from financial planning's unique perspective. I had just come to the astonishing realization that there is no English word to describe the relationship between an individual and money. Since it is my belief that financial planning's mission, meaning and purpose are grounded in that very relationship, I was shocked. Yet I finally understood why financial planning issues generated so many disconnects in so many dimensions.
For me it was a "flat rock" discovery. As a boy, some 8 years old, I enjoyed turning over rocks and stones to reveal the earth beneath teeming with bugs, worms and sundry creepy-crawlies. I did not know their names. Words are not so important to an 8 year old. But words become more important as we age. They allow us to name relationships beneath the surface, suggesting profound forces at work.
That's why political groups and businesses must generate unique language as part of their culture. In college, I could tell an individual's fraternity affiliation by his slang. Or consider the spontaneous language revolution in technology. Among many examples, we have "googling," "surfing," and "IMing." "Texting" and its lewd offspring "sexting" were not even gleams in Mr. Webster's eye for the first three quarters of my life. "Spam" was a fat, salty meat product with a disgusting odor. Etc.
Why is it that technology has generated so many words but financial planning has not?
In the last article, I asked whether we could build an authentic financial planning profession even with our insufficient words. To the critic's consternation, I did not offer a path or a cure or any particular words that would do the job. Frankly, I did not know of any. I had just recognized the issue.
That was then. This is now. In the meantime, I have given the issues considerable thought and concluded that this is a big damn deal, worthy of considerable attention.