Friday, December 5, 2008

The Money Complex Just Got Less Complex

I haven’t written in awhile for a couple of reasons. Number one, work and my practice have been really busy (as you can imagine). Number two, our culture has been on a rollercoaster ride to match the dips and loops of the market. Each day seems to usher in a whole new socioeconomic “reality.” It astounds to me how quickly our society has pivoted to embrace values of frugality, simplicity, and human connection over consumer expression. As someone who works from a systems perspective, this is mind-bending stuff. It also feels slightly schizophrenic.

It puts me in mind of Arlene Modica Matthews’ book, Your Money, Your Self. In her book Ms. Matthews talks about the five-layer “Money Complex” which resides in each of us. Whenever we are poised to make a financial choice or action, our process gets filtered through each of these layers:

Layer 1: Intrapsychic Response – Feelings, reactions, the "little voice" of truth in your head.

Layer 2: Family Training Response –What you learned or saw in your family and how you interpreted that as right or wrong.

Layer 3: Social Training Response – What you believe is true about others, especially those you admire.

Layer 4: Technology Based Response – Is there a financial instrument (such as a credit card, HELOC, floating 0% balances) that will enable me to take – or avoid – this action?

Layer 5: Pack-think Response – The pressure you feel to do what everyone else is doing or not doing.

Certain layers are stronger or weaker than others depending on the individual and the situation.

In recent years financial stress has ticked quietly higher as our debt levels rose and certain middle-class givens started to stretch out of reach. The Intrapsychic Response Layer (“this feels terrible, something is wrong here”) was ignored while the Social Training Layer (“people like me have this, it's the normal thing”), Pack-think Layer (“I certainly don’t want to be the ONLY person who doesn’t have that”) and Technology Layer (“I can have it if I charge it and just pay the minimum”) ran the show.

This seismic cultural shift seems primarily driven by the about-face in financial technology – the loss of cheap, easy credit along with job insecurity and the end of perceived wealth from a stock boom and housing bubble. When the technology abruptly changed the culture did, too.

I didn’t have a name for it then, but I feel like the last two or three years of my practice might be summed up as Layer 4 Mania. People have been completely distracted by the myriad of financial instruments and scams. Our culture has mistaken the ability to buy something as the ability to afford something.

What we’re experiencing now is a hard, painful look in the mirror. The Intrapsychic Response Layer is screaming, and it’s finally being heard.