Shahriar Shahriari

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Message of the Month

August, 1999


With the current dramatic declines in some sectors of the stock market, and with headlines such as a day trader in Atlanta going on a shooting rampage, many are now paying attention to the topic of loss.

I know someone with a very small net worth who has recently lost about $3,000. I also have a friend who over the past two weeks, has lost about $30,000 in the stock market. I have recently been acquainted with a family who have lost about $300,000 since the beginning of the year, in their small business. And last weekend I met a gentleman who lost about $10 million in a much larger business that he owns. Finally, a few weeks back, when the shares of Microsoft dropped $11 over a two day period, Mr. Bill Gates, the richest man alive, lost about $10 billion in his net worth in that same time period.

All of this has made me think about the significance of loss and how each of these people would react. And I noted a very interesting pattern.

The very rich felt very little impact, even though the amounts were substantial, and at times the proportion of their lost wealth was also significant. It was as if to them, generating wealth was not a problem. They simply took a fatalistic approach, saying things like, "gain some, lose some" etc. To them, the money did not seem to be the issue. The game of life was more important. It was the process of wealth generation and not the accumulation that mattered.

The very poor also took a fatalistic approach, yet they came from a very different perspective. They would say things like, "when you have nothing to lose, what difference would a few more dollars make…" or the less cynical ones would say, "no matter how poor I have been, I have always been taken care of, and I am still standing…"

The group that felt the most impact was the middle group. To them, it was a lot of hard work that accumulated the riches, and to lose that was a hard blow. In a way, after investing so much time and sweat and blood, who would want to start over again?

It was this group that felt the impact emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And of course, in the longer term, would feel the same impact physically too, through their continued hard work.

At this point, I sat back and started thinking… If the low numbers and the high numbers are fine to lose, why is it that the middle numbers are not? After all, they are just numbers…

It was then that I realized that it is not the money that is important. We don’t concern ourselves with the loss of money. What matters is the significance we attach to that money. In a way, for the wealthy, it is "easy come, easy go". And for the poor, it is, "you can’t lose what ain’t got…"

But the middle class associate their net worth with their self-worth and their security. They associate this money with investment of time and energy, and the sacrifice of joy. The trading off of what really matters, things like love and care, and being with friends and family, and at times even their health, with things that will bring confidence, assurance, security and comfort.

In a way, this has become the crucifixion of the not so poor and not so rich.

But what if we lost the things that really mattered in life? The things that were not just numbers? Things like loved ones, family, and friends? Things like the precious time that we have, or our health? Or things like what brings us joy in life and what gives us a sense of purpose? What if we lost any of those?

Shahriar Shahriari
Vancouver, Canada
August 1999

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