Right Resolve

I came across an article written by a 30-something chap who bought a condo at age 24 and wrecked himself financially. Even if the tone is occasionally whiny, for the most part he avoids pointing blame at anybody but himself, which is all to the good, since he’s indubitably the sole author of his misfortunes. He bought in 2006, at the peak of the real estate bubble, and he bought with no equity whatsoever and not a dime in savings. He made himself a sitting duck for any downturn in the market, and as we all know, a great big whopping downturn happened within a year or so.

He could have stayed the course successfully — after all, the monthly payment remains the same no matter what the property’s ultimate resale value — but he compounded his foolishness by quitting a steady job in favor of pursuing a freelance writing career, although at the time he was seriously underwater in his mortgage with the break-even point still a good ways off in the future. As his income dwindled, he found himself in the worst situation imaginable: he couldn’t afford the monthly payments, he couldn’t rent the place out for enough to cover the payments, and he couldn’t sell. Whether one calls it instant karma or just the impersonal consequences of actions, the guy kicked himself into his predicament and will have to claw his way out, one way or another.

Which leads me to thinking about something I hadn’t thought about in a while: the Buddhist concept of Right Resolve. This is one of the “eightfold path” precepts that together form the fourth of the Four Truths, themselves an after-the-fact outline of the Buddha’s teachings as formulated by later generations.

Early definitions of Right Resolve, the work of narrow-minded, naive monks, are of little use in the modern world, or in just about any world for that matter. Those old-timey Buddhist monks had a single pat, prim answer for just about everything. Do you need to avoid sexual misconduct? Just live celibately. Are you too concerned about money? Just don’t have any. Are you attached to your possessions? Get rid of it all and live without doodley-squat, not even a proper pair of eyebrows. Do you worry too much about your diet? Just beg for your food, eat whatever you’re given, and don’t save anything.

Fortunately, Right Resolve is amendable to interpretation by more discerning minds. It can be understood more broadly (and with considerably more application to contemporary life) as the determination to avoid actions that are harmful to oneself or to others, regardless of one’s current lifestyle.

And that’s clearly where this guy tripped up big time. The resolution itself needed to be considered much more closely than it was, whether it was buying a house, a car, or a bag of groceries. He even flirts around the edges of the issue in his article, pointing out his many reservations about the purchase even while his parents were encouraging him and offering help.

It appears that many of his reservations were about himself, more than the financial commitment or the market, and had he listened to himself more carefully, he might very well have avoided an action which threw him into financial disarray for the next decade and will likely continue for a good while longer. He knew he wasn’t and might never be emotionally or fiscally ready to buy property. He knew that the market was over-inflated. He knew that his income was insufficient, and that he lacked job security. He knew all of it.

And yet he acted, acquiescing to what he considered the better sense of his parents. Even that should have been a siren-level warning to him: any 24-year-old who is that easily swayed by his parents needs to limit his financial decisions to calculating a server’s tip.

Thus Right Resolve would seem to imply being to thine own self true. Along with its companion Right View, Right Resolve is a kind of mental gymnastic, the strengthening one’s own will and the slow acquisition of clear thinking under stress. It begins with basic information (which he had) but then leads to the implications of that information.

The author of the article seems to be picking that up in hindsight. His last paragraph addresses the common observation that many millennials aren’t buying homes. “Maybe they just know what they’re doing,” he says. Hmmm: there is no “they” there in the broad sense that he’s implying, at least in my opinion. Some millennials are buying homes, after all, and presumably they know what they’re doing as well. One should refrain from a massive purchase like a house or condo if one lacks fiscal discipline, has a low salary, has no savings, and has questionable job security.

Hell, that doesn’t even need to be given such a fancy label as Right Resolve. It’s just good old common sense.

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