Quora.com is a question and answer site built around user generated content. Users post questions on the site, and registered members would take turns to have a go at answering the question. The best replies gets voted upwards and commands a higher presence than a mediocre answer.
The questions and answers on Quora ran the gamut from dead serious to seriously funny. The genre includes just about everything; from politics to business, travel to education to psychology and maths and technology and of course investing.
Some of the smartest people in their respective fields are on Quora, and they provide an insightful and thoughtful glimpse into their world. Recently US President Barack Obama became a Quora user, signing up to answer two questions on his healthcare proposals. Mark Zuckerberg apparently has a Quora account as well, although for the moment his activity is seemingly limited to posting rather than answering questions.
Most of the answers on Quora are relatively short and make for an easy read. They make for a good distraction while waiting for the train or while waiting in the queue. (There is only so many times you can update your facebook feed). And I always leave Quora feeling that I have learnt something new, that my mind has been stretched and expanded.
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A few days ago I was mindlessly browsing Quora and came across the following question.
What secret sides to human nature do therapists see that non-therapists would be surprised by?
I have always been a big fan of human behaviour. I like to find out what makes people tick and why they make the decisions they make. I am curious about why people do the things they do. My curiosity was piqued and I read on.
The number one answer was by Rick Cormier, a semi-retired psychotherapist, with more than 500 upvotes. His reply is produced in full as follows
I’ll give you my favourite one: People CREATE precisely what they try hardest to avoid
Germophobes put paper on public toilet seats and let it fall on the floor when they’re finished because they don’t dare to touch it. They don’t flush because they refuse to touch the toilet handle. So when you walk into a public restroom with toilet paper all over the floor and a toilet full of wretched feces you blame the low class snobs but it is actually the neat freaks who make the mess.
People who are afraid of unfairness will unintentionally treat people unfairly in order to ensure that no one is taking advantage of them.
It is a fascinating phenomenon I have seen in hundreds of people for decades.
People create precisely what they try hardest to avoid.
I was immediately reminded of a dear friend, whom upon arriving at a ‘marriageable’ age, set out with a vengeance to find a boyfriend and husband by making her presence felt on online matchmaking sites and attending countless dating sessions. She met so many people that she became confused. And more than one prospect became put off by her relentless social activities. We create what we try hardest to avoid.
I was also reminded of ourselves as parents. In wanting to ensure that our two year old is accepting of his little sister, we make an effort to speak with him about the new addition. We bought him books about baby sisters and constantly remind him that he is big brother now. Sometimes I wonder if the attention is doing more harm than good. The jealousy doesn’t seem to be abating and I wish he could speak and tell us if we are doing right. Or is it us that has created precisely what we try hardest to avoid.
But I feel the most for investors.
Investors who are trying to avoid the effects of inflation. In fact, many are not even ‘investors’ per se but just regular people who work hard and have built up an egg nest. The thought of inflation eroding their hard earned savings sends shivers down their spine and they seek out higher returns.
Unfortunately many in this group have little financial knowledge and they end up falling prey to dubious schemes and dodgy scams, losing their money in the process. Did they create precisely what they try hardest to avoid?
Many investors also try hard to grow their portfolio in good times and bad by timing the market. They want to avoid their portfolio shrinking during a market downturn. Well informed investors who read the news, follow the global markets, study the economic cycles might think that they can beat the markets and make a killing when the opportunity presents.
In reality, many are driven by greed, buying when the markets are raging, hoping to make a killing. When the markets collapses, fear descends on them and they make a run for safer assets. They buy high and sell low. Losing money in the process. Did they create precisely what they try hardest to avoid?
There are also investors who avoid stocks because they claim that stocks are high risk and unsafe. Some of them still have money tied up in that underperforming counter purchased many years ago.
Many believe properties make for better investments and they pile into properties even when prices are at an all time high. When the markets correct and their properties become impossible to sell they lament their bad timing and rotten luck. Did they create precisely what they try hardest to avoid?
And finally, I feel for Investors who try their best to avoid being scammed. They have had bad experiences before, their money being taken from them in the most cruel fashion. They want to feel protected. They bray for more regulation from the government.
Yet in depending on the government and others to regulate and protect, they themselves fail to fill up the knowledge void. No amount of protection is sufficient against crooks intent on making investors part with their money. In asking for protection, are they asking precisely for what they try hardest to avoid?
Do you have that experience?
As a worker or a boss, a friend or a parent, a trader or investor, are you creating precisely what you try hardest to avoid?