When compared to the relative ease of last year, 2022 has been akin to what an old boss of mine might have called “dragging a mule through the mud.” The crazy thing about that sentence isn’t the corny, homespun analogy. It is 2021 was anything but normal, let alone easy for a lot of people. However, this year has, thus far, been one for the books.
Red ink in the markets. Pain at the pump and in the checkout line. Russians in the Ukraine. Shanghai in complete lockdown. Beijing taking control of the Solomon Islands, for all intents and purposes. Marine Le Pen on the cusp of becoming President of France, and potentially taking that country out of NATO and the EU. Elon Musk being Elon Musk, and a lot of people don’t like that. Crime is on the rise, or at least it seems to be. COVID exhaustion, enough said. Massive traffic jams in Texas at the border. Emerging economies and countries largely shrugging their shoulders at the Ukraine war and US diplomatic efforts to make them care. Rising interest rates and the threat of recession. The apparent lack of civility in society. Violence in Jerusalem. Disney does this and DeSantis does that. Etc.
This week alone, I fielded more, shall I say, ‘doom & gloom’ questions than I had over the previous 51. The people doing the asking didn’t necessarily feel bad about their current situation or even their near-term prospects. Far from it. However, almost to a person, they started their questions with something along the lines of “we see it in the headlines that XYZ” or “the people on the TV are saying thus & so” or “you read everywhere that ABC” or “so and so says.”
Make no mistake about it. We, the general public, are inundated with a constant barrage of negativity which is shaping our world view and how we interact with others. The worst part? We are demanding it and consuming it in vast amounts. After all, no news sells like bad news, if you catch my drift.
Don’t get me wrong. People should be aware of what is happening in the world around them. You can’t live your life with your head in the sand, wearing blinders, or living in a cave. Well, I suppose you can, but it might not work out so well for you. However, there is a difference between “being in the world” and “being of the world.”
We are all “in the world.” There is no way around that other than death. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be “of the world.” By that I mean you don’t have to let the outside world with its negative news, lack of civility, questionable morality, and a whole host of other ills define who you are and how you live your life. It’s not as difficult as it sounds.
Consider this, if you watch and read nothing but FOX constantly, you will come to believe everyone on the proverbial left side of the aisle is a fool, hell bent on destroying America. Conversely, if watch and read nothing but CNN or MSNBC constantly, you will likely view everyone on the right side of the aisle as a “deplorable” who wants nothing more than to turn the United States into the Republic of Gilead. Finally, if all you do is sit in front of the business channels all day, you will get an unhealthy appreciation for money and the role it should play in your life.
As Timothy said: “For the love of money is the root of all evil…” Notice it is the love of money which is the root of all evil, not money itself. After all, money is inanimate and only carries the value which we assign to it.
I am waxing philosophical today for a couple of different reasons. First, today is Good Friday, as well as the start of Passover, or Pesach. These are far more important than either FOX or CNN, trust me on that. Second, I got some really awful news this week about someone I have known most of my life, which has led to some self-reflection.
My conclusions were/are pretty straight forward. First, no matter what I do today, the sun will rise in the East in the morning. Babies will come into the world. People will leave it. Hearts will break and they will mend. People will laugh and they will cry. Somewhere, someone is having their first kiss as you read this. In essence, life will go forward, and much of it is awesome. Second, I find I am least happy when I am “of the world,” when I am consumed by the negativity. When I can’t divert my eyes, and when my thoughts are heavy. When I am in what a favorite professor of mine, Barry Brownstein might call a “lower state of mind.” This is when life becomes a struggle.
A struggle, huh? That kind of sums up 2022 in a lot of ways, doesn’t it? But what can we do about it? How can we make things easier? Unfortunately, there is no one immediate panacea. We can only hope to chip away at our walls of worry. However, if we do so long enough and consistent enough, they will fall. But how to chip away? How to stop dragging that mule through the mud?
Perhaps we could start by putting the phone down, turning off the television, and picking up a book or a magazine. Hold off on the Stephen King or Margaret Atwood for the time being, okay? Spend time with family and friends. If you have been religious in the past, recommit to attending services more frequently. Start a hobby or plant some peppers (which is oddly satisfying since they grow very easily and in great profusion). Notice the sunset and share it with a loved one. Say hello to a stranger, but not in a creepy way. Ha. Most importantly, if you are down, if everything seems too much, raise your hand.
As for the economy and the markets, things should get better as the year progresses. That is what our tea leaves are telling us. However, if all of us do what I wrote in the previous paragraph, tomorrow won’t seem so bad, and things definitely WILL get better as the year progresses. I am convinced of it.
Thank you for your continued support. As always, I hope this newsletter finds you and your family well. May your blessings outweigh your sorrows not only on this day but on every day, and may the conflict and bloodshed in Ukraine end quickly.
Please note, nothing in this newsletter should be considered or otherwise construed as an offer to buy or sell investment services or securities of any type. Any individual action you might take from reading this newsletter is at your own risk. My opinion, as those of our investment committee, is subject to change without notice. Finally, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the rest of the associates and/or shareholders of Oakworth Capital Bank or the official position of the company itself.