Numbers and Their Lies of Omission
“We need the Profit and Loss statement to tell a story that we want the bank to know.” This statement was from a former employer who wanted to acquire a new line of credit and needed me to organize the P&L statement in a manner that would appear more creditworthy. Preparation of SEC filings for a Fortune 500 company, finessing the reality of money being utilized for Mergers and Acquisitions in the midst of a pandemic hitting struggling small businesses; this to avoid appearing predatory in nature. Contractors being paid at a premium and disposed of abruptly so as to paint a less risky picture; their pay is accounted for as a business expense rather than a liability like normal employee payroll would be accounted for. Business owners paying themselves a smaller salary to retain a lower marginal tax rate, all the while still maintaining a lifestyle reflective of their true affluence. Me, writing an entire economic thesis paper using regression analysis to prove that gambling and casinos were an inferior good and service for a community; all the while conveniently leaving out or downplaying the positive quantifiable economic impacts. Biased much?
What is the story that we want the audience to hear and feel and digest into their psyche? That is the purpose of using numbers. I have heard the shortsighted statement, “numbers don’t lie”. Like the letters in these sentences being placed together with the words that I am choosing to write to you with, numbers also tell a story. The above events are all things that I personally played a part in as a financial analyst, this does not include the stories that I have helped individuals write, as a financial advisor. I never did or was asked to do anything illegal or even unethical but that was common practice, and it was indeed storytelling; storytelling that is handsomely rewarded. Numbers do tell a story, and the same set of numbers can tell a myriad of stories, some with good but biased intentions and some with the intent to divide; none inclusive of the entire universe of possibilities, simply because it is not feasible. If we can only humbly accept this for the reality it is, perhaps we can find a new peace within ourselves and within our relationships.
And yet, I view a world on fire with disdain for one another as they spew handpicked numbers with carefully selected narratives. People are losing sleep as they gluttonously consume their own cuisine of confirmation bias. Family members and neighbors are in a heightened state of tension and fear, where any ill placed act or word could engulf the relationship in flames. And yet we feed the beast with the same compulsion that demands we stare at the wreck on the highway rather than pay heed to our own lane. When the noise has settled and we are faced with meeting eternity, will we hold tightly to the debates we felt we won as a source of warmth while life seeps from earth to the heavens? Will our narrow views on present reality, formed not by true objectivity but by fear and compulsion and arrogance, be our pathway to eternal bliss?
Science has proven that even the most intelligent of our species, do not fully utilize our entire brains, and yet somehow we arrogantly stand on a soapbox of believing our perception and reality is the only one that could apply to an entire globe. How is it possible for us to so confidently write others off as worthless when our own minds are confirmed as limited even at their peak, in capacity to understand and comprehend all of the universal truths? We are broken at best, and at worst we are in denial of our brokenness.
What is the solution? At the risk of proposing a conclusive solution after saying there could be no possible way for any person to have a conclusive universal solution, I suggest asking questions and self reflection. Why when someone takes a particular stance do we react in an emotional way? Is our reaction productive or harmful? Is it necessary? Is it possible they have access to information that we do not have access to? Is it possible through another person’s unique life experiences, they could have a logical explanation for why they think and believe the way that they do? Is it likely that any given person has sit in their home contriving the most offensive worldview with the intent to ruffle my feathers? The trouble is, we think so highly of ourselves and our own narrow view and exposure to the world. We think there is one way to read the numbers and that these numbers are inclusive of all possible data. Perhaps someday they will be, but that day is not today.
For today, with my limited scope of the universe, I want to choose relationships and peace over my own ego. My life is but a breath and will be taken from me at any possible moment, and I do not want to leave a wake of destruction in my striving to be right. Friends, I have held the hands of dying people and it is not because I know that I am right that I implore you to consider your thoughts and actions, but because I have looked into the eyes of ones who knew their moments were few, some embodied peace, some held terror and sadness; and it is my hope for you that your eyes will reveal a farewell of peace and contentedness.