Fears Learned in Our Youth

We had a problem, like so many others out in suburbia, with various animals like squirrels getting into our garbage cans. They would eat through the covers and even after we built a wooden structure to house the garbage cans, they ate through that structure as well.

After trying various things to prevent this from occurring, we turned once again to the Internet for some guidance. The suggestion that we decided to try was a battery operated instrument that you bury into the ground near the garbage cans. The instrument would rattle like a rattlesnake intermittently.

The solution worked incredibly well as the various animals would not want to come near their perceived “lethal” foe. To our surprise this little instrument worked from the moment we inserted it into the ground. No animals ventured to try to get into our garbage cans.

However, the astonishingSquirrel part of this tale is that the batteries died out on this rattling instrument several months after we put it into the ground. We never replaced the batteries; in fact, we later remembered to take the instrument out of the ground when it became nonfunctional.

To our amazement, the garbage cans continue to be free of invading animals years after the instrument stopped working. Our guess is the parents of these animals have passed down the knowledge that there is harm and potential death in trying to find food in these particular garbage cans.

Humans function in a similar manner. Lessons of potential danger are passed down to us in our youth. We still see the effects of these well-meaning lessons when we meet with individuals. One remnant of a past potential danger is how people become fixated on eliminating their mortgage payments as soon as possible. Often they have an incredibly low interest rate mortgage which is fixed for the term of the loan. So how did they get the idea that the mortgage has to be eliminated as soon as possible? It was taught – likely by their parents.

Their parents were very familiar with The Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 which resulted in many Main Street banks losing most of their access to capital, courtesy of the collapse of Wall Street banks.  Those banks reacted with a massive foreclosure surge in the 1930s, far worse than anything we experienced after the recent housing crisis that began in 2007. 

You see at one point in the country’s banking system, banks could demand that money that was loaned to the homeowner be repaid immediately if they got behind on another loan. You can understand how devastating that would be to anyone. And you can understand how, just like the fake rattlesnake sounds, it still generates fear for individuals though the threat is no longer there. They remember all too well the warning of their parents to do everything possible to eliminate the mortgage.

Another example of this learned fear is the stock market. The generation of individuals now approaching retirement age grew up in households that were significantly negatively impacted by the declines in the stock market of the Great Depression. They grew up in households speaking about how the stock market should be avoided as the scourge of human existence.

The question around the kitchen table was not IF the next Great Depression and stock market crash would occur, only WHEN it would occur. People are still looking for the rattlesnake that’s not there.

The beliefs and lessons “learned” in our youth can negatively impact our futures if we do not appreciate that things may have changed through time. If we are focused on an imaginary rattlesnake, we may be avoiding areas that may actually nourish us with leftovers.

What childhood fears are still influencing your decision making and may need to be updated?

Work with an independent financial coach who can help you understand those fears better so that you too can make the right choices to in order to reach your goals.

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About Dan Crimmins

Dan Crimmins, co-founder of Crimmins Wealth Management, is a financial coach and fee only financial planner. Have a financial question? ASK DAN

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