Why there are no hard-and-fast financial rules other then don’t cause yourself irreparable financial harm.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why beginners tend to be rule focused while veterans are more intuitive and follow patterns.
- What an ancient Chinese madman can teach us about personal finance.
- Why we should be wary of people who tell us the exact path to follow to be successful.
- Why there are no set financial rules so we have to create our own.
A great book that discusses the Chinese concept of wu wei and how it relates to recent studies on the brain is Trying Not To Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity by Edward Slingerland
Lessons From a Madman
In the ancient Chinese classic, the Zhuangzi there is a man named Jian Wu who is deeply disturbed by the words of Jieyu, the madman, who loves to sing and philosophize.
Jian Wu tells his friend that Jieyu “talked big without getting at anything, going on and on without getting anywhere. I was shocked and terrified by what he said, which seemed as limitless as the Milky Way — vast and excessive, with no regard for how people are.”
“What in the world did he say?” asks Lian Shu, Jian Wu’s friend.
Jian Wu relates how Jieyu spoke of a man who did not live a conventional life such as eating the five grains that were sacred to the Chinese. Instead, this man “feeds on the wind and dew. He rides upon the air and clouds, as if hitching his chariot to soaring dragons, wandering beyond the four seas.”
Jian Wu regards this as “crazy talk” which he refuses to believe.
Later in the book we learn Jieyu’s crazy talk is he disavowed the straight line, step-by-step, one-size fits all approach to life outlined by Confucius and his followers. The conventional path.
Jieyu knew individuals were too different and the world too complex and unpredictable for everyone to follow the same plan. That it was better to find one’s own indirect path.
Jieyu sings outside Confucius’ front gate, “Drawing a straight line upon this earth and then try to walk along it — danger, peril!
The brambles and thorns, which so bewilder the sunlight, they don’t impede my steps. My zigzag stride amid them keeps my feet unharmed.”
He labels as a sham those individuals who proscribe “regulations, standards, judgments and measures” derived from their own experience, assuming that if something worked for them it will work for everyone.
Looking back it is easy to connect the dots and come to the conclusion that one has found the one path to success that everyone should follow.
Jieyu says expecting someone to follow the same path you trod is “like asking a mosquito to carry a mountain on its back.”
Rather, Jieyu believes individuals should find their own way but never in a manner that risks irreparable damage to themselves.
“A bird avoids the harm of arrows and nets by flying high, and a mouse burrows in the depths beneath the shrines and graves to avoid poisons and traps. Do you lack wisdom of these two little creatures?” Jieyu asks.
Zigzagging to avoid the brambles and thorns while riding upon the air and clouds as if hitching a chariot to dragons might seem contradictory.
But it is not.
All individuals look into the unknown and see the same impenetrable but constantly moving wall that separates the present from the future.
The future is filled with both positive and negative surprises.
If Jieyu were alive today, he might advocate a two-pronged strategy of protecting against the downside (think insurance, emergency savings, education, and a supply of food and water) while striving to capture the upside through constant exploration and experimentation.
And where should one explore? What experiments should one pursue?
The Zhuangzi says the answer will come from within if we listen and are patient.
“Concentrate on the hollows of what is before you, and the empty chamber within you will generate its own brightness. Good fortune comes to roost in stillness. To lack this stillness is called scurrying around even when sitting down.”
“Do not compromise your mission, do not hurry it to completion, for those would take it beyond the beneficial measure. Compromised missions and hurried completions are dangerous things. Beauty is something that comes from taking your time, and once the ugliness takes shape it is too late to change it.”