Ada Rios-Rivera, PhD – What Is “Deriving” Our Worth?

“The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.”

~ Zen proverb

"Wall Painting from the Temple of Longing" by Paul Klee
“Wall Painting from the Temple of Longing” by Paul Klee

Anyone who knows as much or as little as I do about the world of finance has probably heard of derivatives. And anyone who’s ever heard an explanation of what derivatives are has been as confused as I have. But that’s part of the strategy behind derivatives, uh, at least as I understand them.

So, the following is a definition of derivatives I recently heard, which, dare I say, I understood: A derivative is a product whose value is completely derived/contingent on an underlying product. As such only the market value of the product can be reflected on the books since the product being sold exists only in relation to the underlying one and therefore, the notional value of the product cannot be reflected.

In my opinion anything that requires such clandestine conceptualizing must be attempting one of two things: 1. Selling something as valuable that is actually worthless or 2. Hiding, hoarding, and/or monopolizing, something of value because of greed. It seems just the act of concealing allows one to feel a pseudo-authority that is then used as a legitimate rationale for unethical behavior made acceptable and even legal. Keeping both possibilities in mind, derivatives and any construct meant to elude our cognitive grasp seems metaphorically destined to emerge, given how and from what sources we derive our self worth.

Concepts deliberately created to confuse are known as red herrings. Though they’re designed to distract and prevent thinking, my academic training has taught me how to spot them so that they now have the opposite effect on me. It also helps being heretically endowed which means I’m naturally a seeker of wisdom, which resonates for me even if it goes against consensus reality. In this case, the red herring tactic segues perfectly into my first point about two very clever strategies used to keep us from thinking for ourselves.

First, our intelligence is pacified with a definition, albeit complex and convoluted, of derivatives (or any concept meant to elude or delude) that are supposedly understandable to all. And so when all of us don’t understand, the second part of the plan goes into motion. Our intellectual inferiority complexes sufficiently reinforced, we all commiserate and even feel solidarity in admitting we don’t understand because – who does? – and well, after all, that’s why they are the finance experts.

Now, if you’re thinking I’m spouting conspiracy theory, I am. But only arguing conspiracy would be as short sighted and reductive as the derivative financial concept. Rather, I’m suggesting that we’ve become part of the coalition to conspire against our own indigenously human ways of knowing, experiencing, thinking, feeling, dreaming and imagining that leads to our individually unique brand of knowledge and creative expression. The inequity inherent in what gets posited as art, literature, science, or just knowledge in general as well as how it’s used is a fundamental problem with how parts of our Western world work and don’t work.

But this isn’t anything you’ve haven’t heard before whether it’s about derivatives or any other proverbial wool being pulled over your eyes. So what recourse do the sheep have who are blinded by another’s wool? I say use it to bulk up your own! Pull back that wool so you can see your own. Or look deeper, more critically into the perceived obstruction and notice what comes into view.

For example, one of my struggles has been an almost compulsive need to be seen by others as intelligent. When I finally stopped trying to only prove my intelligence and became instead curious about what drove this need, I connected with a very young part of myself to whom I posed the question without judgment, just emphatic curiosity: “Why is it so important for you to be intelligent?” The answer came almost immediately. “Because I am.”

In that moment I realized three things: that being intelligent wasn’t only what was important for me to grasp about becoming myself. It was the fact that some part of myself, (call it Spirit, higher self, soul), was intent on manifesting, living, expressing all parts of myself. A beloved teacher of mine used to remind us, “Your Spirit will kill you trying to live. So you’re better off cooperating.” The second thing I learned was about my particular style of learning. It is in part reflective, implicit and very much an intuitive intelligence that requires above all else, for me to believe in my experiences, regardless of how they manifest. The third lesson is that my struggle around my own indigenous intelligence is teaching me how to bring that belief to others. Believing in the rightness of my need to be intelligent and becoming curious about it allowed me to get to it’s source. Using my  awareness I now have a compassionate relationship with it rather than having it control me through an intellectual complex.

To approach our experiences with curiosity, compassion and faith in the intelligence and design they hold for each of our unique expressions is to live and fulfill our potential creativity and worth. Whatever resonates and affirms your experiences is your indigenous wisdom, your voice and your own way of creatively being in and expressing all your senses. This is all the personal power you’ll need to deal with the shepherds who would use their staffs to herd you into submission.

Pulling the wool back from my eyes, I realized that we humans have learned to regard and disregard ourselves in the same way that derivatives are used. Our essential value is derived not from who we are at our essence but from what value others place on what we have to offer. And what we end up offering, very often has little if anything to do with who we are. In fact, many of us from an early age are socialized away from who we are.

Those who refuse this socialization possess little if any marketable currency and are often resigned to societal margins reflecting whatever isn’t considered part of the culture’s values.  This individual and communal disconnect might, in part, explain the post-modern Western quest to “find ourselves”.  Our speculations focus on hedging the risk of not being part of the fold by accepting the givens, otherwise known as the definitions we don’t understand, rather than investing in the risks it takes to live a life we can truly call our own. If we only embody the definitions of others, we become disembodied from our own self-defining moments and meaning. Which of course means that what you just read may not at all resonate with your experiences. It was Carl Jung who said, “I thank God I am Jung and not Jungian!” He valued what it meant to be essentially himself rather than some derivative of Jung.

When our innate notions of ourselves are exchanged for the safety of mainstream stability and success, we stop living our lives and instead buy and sell its derivatives. Our lives are no longer the moon we once gazed upon, but rather only the finger pointing to the moon.

Ada Rios-Rivera, PhD

First published on Dr. Rios-Rivera’s blog, MYTHoughts, on June 3, 2013.