Happiness is having no opinion.
Self-evidently, political views challenge social contentment, but the point is best demonstrated by stock market opinion and movie criticism.
My brokerage firm mentor, Bill, advised me always to have an opinion. Be prepared, he said, to have an opinion about the future of the market. He was good at expressing opinion, or at least sounding erudite. He was a large man with a commanding voice, a storyteller who could turn a phrase and generate a memorable sentence such as, “We are at the focal point of terminal selling.” You appropriately may ask, “What does that mean?” My response: “I have no idea.”
The problem is that Bill did not want me to have an opinion. He wanted me to make predictions. For a while, I tried but felt awkward and disingenuous. As time passed and experience accrued, I began saying to clients, “I don’t know.” The client conversations sometimes had irony, such as with the person who told me, “John, I know you do not predict the market, but what do think will happen to the price of Eli Lilly,” or, “John, I do not want to be involved in the stock market. Too much risk. Let’s get something guaranteed, and, by the way, I want to purchase stock of Lilly.”
No one predicted the decline of 2008, and no one predicted the historic bull market of 2009 to the present. Still, predictions and commentary are everywhere, frequently from television personalities who would not have audiences if they said, “I don’t know.” Their prognostications follow two principles. If the market is going up, they state it will go up some more. If it’s going down, they predict further decline, and even possible disaster. For me, a closed mouth is best. A closed mouth leaves me contented.
(On the other hand, I do have professional opinions about how to invest.)
Movie evaluation is another weighty topic; the weight sits heavy on shoulders. Three years ago, I screened submissions to the Heartland Film Festival, and two years ago I helped to affirm Truly Moving Picture Award winners. Then I stopped, at first with frustration and sadness. However, during intervening months I have come to appreciate freedom from opinion. The mandate to write a criticism and express an opinion in public was a burden, directly and powerfully reducing enjoyment. The entertainment value was reduced when I was required to consider the quality of acting, mistakes in lighting, sound and cinematography, the social value of a story, and whether a film, however competent, fit the unique criteria of the Truly Moving Picture Award. I found myself isolated and moderately piqued when another critic did not see it my way, when a group voted to recommend a film that did not fit my interpretation of printed criteria.
(In casual conversation disparate views do not bother me; in fact, they stimulate my thinking. However, in a formal setting requiring a formal judgment and a public statement, disagreement sat heavily, eliminating my enjoyment of both the evaluation process and the film.)
Indiana residents are about to experience an onslaught of opinion. During the weeks prior to the May primary, then later before the November general election, opinion will be on every street corner, in every newscast, and in most paid seconds between TV shows. We would be better off without such opinion. Anyway, that is my opinion.•
John Guy is a wealth manager and author of “Middle Man, A Broker’s Tale.”