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The Last Taboo

On March 2, 2017
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The president and CEO of a prominent asset management firm recently proposed that although sex was a taboo subject for a long time, the last remaining taboo in our society is money.  I’d like to take issue with that assertion.

It does seem that sex is no longer taboo, at least in the public arena. Sex is used to sell everything from clothes to vacations, sex education  is required in schools, and sex is the subject of more web sites than any other topic. There are a number of gurus dispensing advice on sexual matters, and in recent years companies selling remedies for sexual dysfunction have recruited prominent politicians and entertainers as spokespeople. Indeed, sex is no longer taboo.

Yet money seems to be in a similar category.  It is the subject of endless conversations, speculation, and media coverage.  Well-known pundits spout opinions and give advice on all things financial. Morning news shows regularly interview investment experts.   Magazines, newspapers, and online columns wax eloquently about economics, savings rates, the best stock picks, and IRA’s. Political candidates consider money – who has it, who spends it, and where it is spent – to be a central issue. Money hardly seems a taboo subject.

What, then, IS the final taboo?  What issue has no talk show pundits or advice columnists offering tips?  What is generally pushed out of our collective consciousness, suppressed, denied, and avoided?

Check your own response when you read the word "death".  If you are like most people, you recoil at the very thought of it. There are no key spokespersons giving information and advice about the process and how to deal with it.  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was long recognized as an expert, but her book On Death and Dying was published in 1969 and Elisabeth herself died several years ago. She temporarily opened the topic, but most of us simply avoid talking about death or facing its inevitability.

The interesting thing is that death used to be familiar. In generations past, grandparents lived with or near their kids and grandkids.  When elders got sick, the family cared for them at home.  When they died, family members lovingly washed and clothed the body, and the wake occurred in the living room. Children were exposed to death as a natural and normal part of life as the entire clan gathered to remember the one who died.  

In recent generations, families began to scatter and both spouses started working. With no fulltime caregivers at home, sick and dying people were moved into hospitals and nursing homes.  Medical technology prolonged life, often seemingly conquering death. Once death did occur, care of the body was shifted to funeral home personnel who quietly performed their duties out of sight. 

As a result of these changes, public perception shifted. Death was no longer considered a normal, natural, and expected part of life.  It became the unexpected and unnatural interruption to normal life.  In modern society, we seem to believe that death is not inevitable, that it won’t happen to us or to anyone we love (at least not until we’re 99 years old and ready to die anyway).  We actively avoid talking or even thinking about it. When death happens, we are shocked and look for someone to sue.

The last taboo, then, is not sex or money.  It is death.  This means most people you encounter, both professionals and clients alike, are unconsciously ignorant about what to say, what to do, and how to support someone who is facing death or grieving the death of a loved one.  The flip side of the equation is that if you do know what to say, what to do, and how to support grieving people, you immediately distinguish yourself in the field.  You serve your clients more compassionately, genuinely, and effectively, and build a reputation for understanding a client’s experience in a way that few other professionals do. 

It is very good for your clients, and consequently it is very good indeed for your business. 



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