Responsibility and Financial Independence

I've recently learned a lot about personal finances, because I've reached that stage in my life where I should start saving for retirement. I've learned about stocks, bonds, actively-managed mutual funds, index funds, traditional IRAs, ROTH IRAs, etc.

Besides being overwhelmed with new information, I've struggled with the ethics of investing. On the one hand, I'm uncomfortable investing money in companies that behave unethically. And let's face it, every major company is probably unethical in some nontrivial way. On the other hand, I want to be financially independent. I don't want to have to rely on others when I'm old. No one wants to be a burden.

One approach that I've taken to rationalize investing is that I already support these major companies, just in different ways. For instance, I use Facebook and Amazon all the time. I own multiple Apple products. Is it really that much different to buy their stocks? Probably not, but investing in their companies would mean that I'm further supporting them.

I'm aware that the proper response to such a scenario is to stop engaging in unethical behavior, instead of trying to justify an additional unethical act. Assuming it's unethical to support these companies, I should stop using Facebook and Amazon, and stop buying Apple products. But the fact of the matter is, I don't want to. I enjoy using their services and buying their stuff. I love my iPad Pro; it's beautiful.

I suspect what's going to happen is that my desire to be financially independent will win.

The Darkness of the Human Condition

It’s been about a month since I’ve started my new job, and so far it’s been a great learning experience. Unfortunately, all the issues that I have to deal with are depressing—death, dying, addiction, sickness, abuse, etc. On an every day basis, I confront the facets of darkness of the human condition, the limits, sins, and vices that plague our species.

Some people say that everyone should work in customer service at least once in their life, so that they know to treat service workers with respect. Part of me thinks that everyone should be exposed to the suffering caused by moral and natural evil, so that they can have perspective on their life. There is no doubt that I’m a lucky person and that none of my problems compare to those that I’m exposed to at the hospital.

Despite the perspective that my job offers me, I find myself constantly worrying about my own insignificant issues. For instance, I worry about my next dentist appointment, because I have a phobia. And I mean I really worry about it. It stresses me out months in advance.

I’ve seen a 4-year-old girl needing a heart transplant and yet I’m significantly worried about the dentist.

I feel self-centered, and I actually confided this to the dentist during my last visit, but he wasn’t listening. I don’t think he was expecting one of his patients to say something like that.

Having Perspective and Complaining

Just recently I found out that the postal service lost 5 out of the 6 boxes of books I had sent home. Apparently, I didn't tape the boxes sufficiently so they broke. I responded to this setback by trying to give myself perspective. I told myself that this isn't a big problem in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I've been very lucky in my life overall; there are others who have certainly suffered more.

To magnify and solidify the impact of having this perspective, I looked up YouTube videos of dying people sharing their thoughts on life. I found two people dying of cancer--both were relatively young. I reacted to these videos by telling myself that I don't have a right to complain. I don't have cancer or any serious health condition. I'm not dying. I'm just a person who lost some books.

I'd say that my efforts to comfort myself have been successful, but they've sparked some worries about the effects of having perspective. On the one hand, I think it's important for people to have a good idea of how their lives are going compared to others. On the other hand, it's quite depressing to keep telling myself that someone else has cancer. I'm not sure how to have perspective while not replacing one negative emotion with another.