Approximately 3500 years ago, military, political, and spiritual leaders from around the ancient world travelled to Delphi in Greece. It was widely believed that the Delphic oracle was communicating the word of the god Apollo in a small temple there. High profile visitors waited in line for days for the opportunity to receive the prophetic wisdom of the oracle. Upon exiting the temple, visitors were greeted with a phrase inscribed in the stone walls just above the exit door that read, “γνῶθι σεαυτόν.” The inscription translates to “know thyself.” Socrates would later go on record as saying that no better advice had ever been given by human beings.
With this foray into history, I hope to convey two points. First, mankind’s insatiable desire to predict the future has always been a part of human existence, and predictions about our economic future today are not much more reliable than consulting an oracle was back then. As a case in point, I read two articles published by the same outlet on the same day that reached very different conclusions. One predicted a more optimistic 2011, while the other envisioned the coming decade as the worst in American history. A third prominent business writer probably had the right idea when she consulted a Magic 8 ball to make her financial prophecies.
The second point is that as we embark on a New Year, it seems appropriate to take this time to reflect on ourselves. We all have bad habits that are diminishing our quality of life in one way or another, and “knowing thyself” is the first step to correcting those imperfections. There is a great deal of truth in the adage that we are our own worst enemy, particularly when it comes to our personal finances.
Uneasiness persists within us that continues to manifest itself in all aspects of our lives including how we manage our money. We continue to make precisely the wrong investment decisions at just the right time. Or is it the other way around? In any event, while I have harped on this issue many times before, with the New Year, my goal is to inspire new behavior.