Interior Finance

By Wagner Richard | Wisdom

Jan 08
Polite people don’t talk about money or their relationships with it. Personal priorities, love, feelings, values, psychology, spirituality in a financial context? Please. It is just not done. Privately. Or publicly.

Financial advisors need to take clients beyond the numbers.

Polite people don’t talk about money or their relationships with it. Personal priorities, love, feelings, values, psychology, spirituality in a financial context? Please. It is just not done. Privately. Or publicly.

Oh, to be sure, there is name-calling, ideological bonding, commonly assumed goods and evils and presumptive rhetoric, but when it gets right down to it, our money conversations aren’t much. They rival childhood playgrounds for sophistication and productivity. Mostly, they are some nasty combination of yelling and not listening.

Money requires fundamental, systemic respect. Absent financial literacy, these issues can hurt us, especially with the best of intentions. Without respectful financial conversations about communal decisions and issues, how one bit impacts another bit, how money is an essential aspect of social ecosystems … Well, it just might not be pretty.

Successful sustainability requires money discussions as if we all occupy the same planet and are not fundamentally barbaric. This means understanding how money works and our individual relationships with it. It means we escape the gravity of the various “isms” to look at money as it is, not as we hope it could be. This means dialogical framework, healthy mutual presumptions, mutual care and vision.

Which moves me deftly to “integralism” and money.

Integralism provides needed analytical tools. It enables a review of all aspects of money and its attendant relationships. The critical distinctions enabled by “exterior,” “interior,” “personal” and “social” can clarify, simplify and compare. With them, we can go beyond mere numbers, beyond obsolete, dysfunctional ideologies and romantic indulgences.

Recognize the stakes. Our collective relationships with money and the money forces play throughout our lives. They touch every social and psychological question of significance. These relationships enable us to talk healthfully and constructively about money itself, or not. Generally not.

Integral Finance can contain these needed healthy conversations. It can allow us to isolate issues, then integrate them as needed. To briefly review, Integral Finance touches each sector of the holonic quadrant, which includes four quadrants: (clockwise from top left) exterior-individual, interior-individual, exterior-collective and interior-collective. “Everything” is reducible to one quadrant or another. Ken Wilber outlines this philosophy of integralism, including the holonic quadrant, in A Theory of Everything.

The exterior is visible and measurable. The exterior dominates our perceptions of money and finance. The interior is more elusive. You know, the inside stuff like love, soul, beauty, thought, emotion, namely the stuff that makes life worth living. We know it’s there but we also know it’s not subject to scientific validation. To reference classic Greek philosophy, it is Ethics and Art, the Good and the Beautiful. (Also Sin and Banality, Evil and Ugly.) The Individual, (“I”) is personal. The Social (“We”) includes our relational arrays, namely our miscellaneous communities like families, business and various other social units.

“Exterior Finance” is what most of us know. Right-side stuff, including the technical, analytical, numbers, black-letter law and charts, products and so on.

“Interior Finance” is left side and engages the qualitative aspects of money and our relationships with it. It can be intensely personal, but it’s more than just personal. The “We” of “Interior Finance” concerns shared money—when two or more have common issues with intertwined financial components. You know, little stuff like, like education, legal systems, security, trade, ecology or public works. It is not just “touchy feely” pap, it is the essence of modern civilization.

No joke. Money’s social interior is big. Very, very big. It locates where two or more folks have common interests with limited means requiring decisions. This includes any and all social issues with financial implications, including culture, security, social safety nets and, even, matters of birth and death. From friendship to family, to jobs, health and late life medical care, environment, race, air lines, housing, public utilities, businesses, political entities and so on, including money’s very own essence, “Interior Finance” concerns the manners and means of our financial webs. Of course, just as with personal financial literacy, our numerous communities ultimately demand social financial literacy as survival skills.

We all know this. We just don’t talk about it. We try budget band-aids and miscellaneous manipulations but presume unlimited means and irreconcilable differences between “us” and “them.” “They” are always evil. Too bad, “They” are always “We”—and “We” have problems. Yet, we ignore the essential interior aspects of our community’s financial infrastructures, point fingers and resist responsibility. Alas. Where is the dialogue?

Or even the functionality?

Looking past blaming and name-calling, the numbers are just not working. We can’t wish water into draining reservoirs nor balance budgets with wishful thinking. Look around at both the private and public sectors. Structural financial crises abound. Schools and hospitals, welfare systems, disintegrating physical infrastructures. All demand attention. All warn that deferred maintenance is expensive. Hmm. So are the unasked questions and unchallenged assumptions.

It may be the Invisible [Interior] Hand at work, but systemic failures have grotesque implications. Since money issues include everything from A to Z, (abortion to zoning), perhaps we should be having conversations about scarce resource allocations, balance and vision, sustainability and implications.

What are the social costs of our notions of compensation for injury? What do those tax codes really cost in codified overhead and under productive brains? How do we allocate extraordinary medical capacities in a world of financial limitations? Or, even, (gasp, horrors) is the concept of “equality” a particularly effective cultural guiding light? We can’t have it all. Are these truly the decisions we intended to make? Where is the dialogue?

Add last century’s biggest fuss, the Cold War. Communism failed. It was financially illiterate. Capitalism and market places are compassion challenged. They simply do not “care” about caring. Not their job, of course, but how can we distinguish between marketplace economies and marketplace communities? We cannot monetize compassion with debt-based currency. Yet, with all the political noise, it is hard to hear money’s pleas for respect and intelligence. Where is the dialogue?

Interior Finance includes money itself. Remember, all “money” concepts are social, premised on the existence of “others.” In profound senses, the term “my money” is an oxymoron, a literal non sequitur, perhaps even a bit silly. If “your money” has only to do with you, and you alone, then you might as well get out the Monopoly game and declare yourself a millionaire. Who would care? If others don’t believe your money, it’s worthless. We can’t eat gold.

As individuals, money engages our relationship with the world. Money gives us the ability to function in remarkable ways—to sell our best stuff and buy or hire our necessities and our not-so-good stuff. Money links means with needs. Money enables comfort, experience, access, and so on. It also entails duties, responsibilities, perspectives, and so on. It identifies and enables what we exchange, count or store in relationship with others.

Moreover, money’s circulation advantages communities and empowers us individually, regardless of personal wealth. Notwithstanding personal “net worth,” schools, parks, roads, technological and scientific advances, literature, art, stores, theatres, restaurants, streetscapes, and so on, are all generally universally accessible regardless of means. Money’s circulation typically accrues to some form of “we,” not just particular individuals.

For many of us, this requires rethinking, plus something more. This may even require redefining notions of individuality, fear, security, competition … and stereotypes and financial prejudices. It most assuredly requires restructuring governing metaphors and our perceptions of socio-political ecology.

Somewhere, somehow, some way, genuine financial literacy appears essential for functional human ecosystems. As with nature’s ecologies, our various economies reflect sensitive balances and interdependencies. Money is essential to their very life, our very life. And so it is with Interior Finance in the lower left, the quadrant of the interior “we.”

There is no guarantee that our social order will function. We can blow it big time. It’s been done. Money’s misuse or abuse has consequences. Financial illiteracy, failures to grasp costs and consequences, and inabilities to get beyond Wish List thinking cannot be sustained. Financial skills are 21st century survival skills for both communities and individuals.

Money is consistently overlooked, disrespected or abused. We act as though it can be shaved (see Gresham’s Law), negotiated, dissed or ignored. This is where we connect with the social aspects of Interior Finance.

It’s not nice to mess with money. It has a way of messing back. When it messes back, people get hurt.

What to do? What of our communities and money? From couples to continents, Interior Finance is not just personal. It is not merely a matter of our individual earning and spending. It is relationships. It is the body social. It is essence.

Interior Finance enables us to look at shared money as it is. Interior Finance is essential to a healthy body social.

Screaming won’t make it better. Name-calling won’t make it better. Ignoring it won’t make it better. Calling it “only money” doesn’t get it done. Conversations of perspective, thoughtfulness, care, intelligence with literacy and judgment—now that would be a start.

There is literally nothing more vital to the body social than valid, viable, non-ideological conversations around money’s applications within our communities and earnest attempts to collectively understand its functions and applications. Ideologies don’t cut it. Money does not care.

So it goes—of our money, by our money and for our money—within the realm of the Interior “We.” Big stakes. This is Interior Finance.

Richard B. Wagner, JD, CFP, is the principal of WorthLiving LLC, based in Denver.

Originally published in Financial Advisor Magazine Jan, 2003

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