When I was young there was a factory here that made brake shoes. Raybestos-Manhattan. Yes, they used asbestos, and yes there were workers who suffered as the result.
Were they malicious and uncaring? I doubt it. Almost no one is. Did they know enough to be wiser? No. That came later. And no one can undo the past.
Same story with radiation, lead paint, thalidomide, mercury and dozens more. I recall cars with metal dashboards and children without car seats. Yet we survived.
There is a fundamental life lesson here. Call it the first law of selling. In particular selling insurance.
People do not solve any problem before they know and understand that they have the problem.
The same idea applies to exploiting opportunities.
As planning helpers, it is our job to help people understand the world and how others relate to it. Things happen. Some die too young. Some become disabled. Some lose money in ill-considered investments. Some live too long.
How do we help people to understand the lessons of history so they can make decisions that mitigate their risks and take advantage of their opportunities?
Tell stories. Stories work far better than spreadsheets. For the lived too long problem, I often talk about Jeanne Calment (21 February 1875 – 4 August 1997) She lived in Arles and met Vincent Van Gogh when he lived there. It would have been hard to build a plan that funded her long life.
She attributed her long life to her diet. It included olive oil, port wine and a kilogram of chocolate per week. She biked until over 100, and stopped smoking cigarettes when she was 117.
There are innumerable stories you know of people who died too young or became incapacitated. These create context, they are not the whole presentation.
A personal story about a widow forced to sell the family home, or dispose of the family dog, or take a child out of school to work just to get along will outperform any ledger.
Here are some disability stories. You will see why people like author David Brown are so persuasive. Illness and injury could happen to anyone and with disability there is no clear and final answer. More money can help make it work out.
With a story, people will recognize the problem in their own terms even if they had not noticed it before. They never make that transition with a page of numbers.
Even salespeople have problems they don’t recognize. A common one is this:
People make emotionally motivated decisions easier than logically based ones. Later, they will use logic to rationalize it, so do your due diligence.
Your own stories flow more easily, so gather some. Uncle Fred with the herniated disk. Neighbor Joe who broke both legs skiing. Dr. Bill who developed MS, teacher Martha who became depressed. They are out there. Use them to help people identify as yet unexperienced possibilities.
People will deal with the things once they connect.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.