Sunday Best – May 19, 2019

On grief and greed and glory.


I spent the last few weeks meeting with lots of investors, and was reminded that, one way or another, all of us are grieving. It’s impossible to read this report on biodiversity without grieving. It’s impossible to see a loved one die or to live through the end of a relationship without grieving. In all of life, in every season, there is some measure of loss.

Grief is rarely welcome, but like most unbidden things, it holds tremendous power that pops up in unexpected places. It’s grief that makes people say things like, “I don’t care how it’s gotten, I want to maximize returns.” It’s also grief that makes people say things like, “I want to do right by my grandchildren” or “surely there is a better way.” All of these intentions spring from the same root.

When we are grieving, when we feel like we might shatter into a million pieces, one option is to curl up into a ball, to sink inward, to build a shell of self-protection. Stuck in that shell, our burning grief has nowhere to go. It cools into fear, cousin of anger, cousin of greed. All of our energy is spent in holding those million pieces together, and there is room for nothing else. Me me me. Can’t you see that I am in pain?

The other option, much more daunting, is to let grief break us, at least a little. Maybe we still need a shell, but if we let just a few of those million pieces fall to the ground, there’s space for the air and light to enter. Our pain is might not lessen, but it has room to move around. Our burning grief can be linked back to its essence, the love that makes it hurt so much in the first place. And from that love, great things can sprout.

Here is the secret – grief does break us, no matter which path we choose. So when we build our shells, let’s leave just a little open space.

Our grief can lead to glory instead of greed, if we let a few pieces fall.



* An amazing book on these themes is Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. I am honored to serve on the board of the Omega Institute with Elizabeth, the group’s co-founder, and am continuously buoyed-up by all that I learn from Elizabeth and from Omega. 

* As many of your know, some of my own attempts to transform grief can be reflected in my investment work. We just released our first sustainability and impact report at Putnam, as we aim to reconnect investing with the world it is meant to serve. I’m proud of the progress, while recognizing there are also many wonderful miles ahead.



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