I am not a numbers girl. And I don’t pretend to be. I truly like words. They are my most “tangible asset,” which is why I write rather than compute. In the investors’ world I’d be considered an “Aunt Millie.” So unsophisticated, in fact, I don’t know a “Bo Derek” stock from a “big ugly.” But it doesn’t stop there. I am truly baffled by the financial jargon that has warped our English language.
When people talk about “bulls and bears” I think they are talking about sports teams and, in my mind, a “homerun” involves the Red Sox. A “godfather offer” simply reminds me of Marlon Brando. “Naked options” are intimate moments between me and my husband, while “taking a bath” would be an absolute luxury. To me “discretionary trust” is the confidence that everyone in my inner circle will be discreet and prudent. When an advisor friend recently mentioned “efficient frontier” I thought she was referring to Sacajawea.
“Turkey” is something I dress on Thanksgiving, a “haircut” is something I get every six to eight weeks in order to stay well-groomed, and “aging” is a topic we’ll save for the Seniors issue of this newspaper (Feb. 14).
In all seriousness, the language of business and finance can seem cryptic. Lack of knowledge or inexperience can be embarrassing and a liability in today’s well-informed global environment.
Several months ago, I was invited to a party attended by many highly successful individuals – among the guests were two attorneys, a physician, an entrepreneur and several scholars. The subject of the stock market came up and a conversation ensued. I was lost within minutes, my head volleying from one player to the next, trying to make sense of the mumbo jumbo. Now, I consider myself an intelligent, creative and well-rounded woman, but the world of high finance is not a topic I claim to understand. At all. I nodded politely and excused myself in order to assist the host in the kitchen.
I busied myself with some domestic tasks for several minutes, tidied up the counter, plated some appetizers, grabbed a tray of fancy hors d’oeuvres and ventured back out to the guests. By this time, the conversation had shifted a bit. “So, Kara, what is it you do for a living?” a university professor asked me, fingering a canapé. “I work for a nonprofit,” I muttered, more comfortable in my role as waitress and still embarrassed by my ignorance during the previous conversation.
Animatedly, one of the lawyers approached me, “Oh, so you must know an awful lot about philanthropy!” “Well, I know that it’s a significant way to make a difference in our society,” I began. “In my job I see first-hand how giving can change lives.” Unexpectedly, a gaggle of guests entered our circle, interested in what I was sharing. “I am not out there raising the funds. As the director of communications for the Jewish Alliance. I am raising awareness. The most effective, nurturing communication is that which inspires philanthropy and raises dollars. I spread the joy of Jewish giving, living and learning.”
My audience was hanging on every word, and I held court. This was a topic I felt comfortable discussing. It still involved money and finance, but – more importantly – it was about compassion. The subject of tzedakah came up and a philosophical dialogue about charity followed. In the end, each of us concluded that our time, treasure and talents all benefited society and advanced our community in a profound way. The “bottom line” (to coin a financial phase) is: It’s not just the cash in one’s pocket but the generosity in one’s heart.