In Whom Do You Invest? (Or Lessons From Mary Poppins")

Spoilers ahead!!!!

I went to Abingdon, VA yesterday to spend time with one of my oldest and dearest friends Regina. We went to the Barter Theater (one of my favorite things to do) to see their production of the musical Mary Poppins.

I hadn’t seen Mary Poppins in a while, and I had never seen the play. It’s fun to see the childhood productions of our youth as an adult, and think about some of the lessons they teach. Sort of like cartoons you look at from your childhood and now you see all the lines that went completely over your head. While I used to just see the surface, these days I notice the not-so-hidden messages.
The one most significant to me yesterday (besides the fact that Mr. Bank worked in a bank…amusing) was when Mary Poppins has taken the children to see their dad Mr. Banks, at work (much to his irritation) and little Jane Banks asks her dad the question “Daddy, what’s more important, a good idea or a good man?” George at the time was trying to decide who to grant loans to….a seemingly rich and “important” guy with a “sure thing” deal (that was very sketchy on the details…but “promised” to produce a windfall for the bank) or a “less shiny” earnest guy who wanted to invest in the tangible…he wanted to build factories and provide jobs to people in the community. Ultimately George took his answer to Jane’s question to heart and denied the loan to the glitzy guy and granted the loan to the guy who wanted to build factories and provide jobs for people. Shortly afterwards, George was suspended when glitzy guy went to another bank, got a loan from them, and made a big public splash. George had “embarrassed” the bank.

We invest every day. Yes, we invest our money…but we also invest our time, our resources, and our attention. Who are you investing in? The shiny idea or the man (or woman)? Are you even thinking about the quality of your investments at all?

I was talking to a friend today about addictions. If you know an addict (and remember that people can be addicted not just to drugs or alcohol, but any number of things), you know they are attention getters. Many are quite charismatic, and can turn a sublime tale to get you to hand over what they need to feed their addictions. The enabler falls for it, and keeps handing over their resources. They invest over and over again, always leading to the same result. Poof! Their investment disappears. They’re investing in glitzy guy with the “big” ideas. These are also known as bottomless pits, or the people equivalent of swampland someone wants to sell you.

During that same time in your life there is probably another option….someone else you could have chosen to spend you time, talents, or money on. They may not be big attention grabbers. You may even have to look for them. They are people of character…”good men” and “good women.” 

This “good man” or “good woman” may be an addict, too. When do you invest in an addict? When they are willing to acknowledge their problem, and do the work necessary to get their life in order. When they show you more than words… they take action in their own to solve their problem. When they don’t expect you to bail them out, but think they need to face consequences. 

And how do you invest in them? You never give them resources to feed their addiction…or else you are part of what imprisons them and not part of the support for helping them escape it. In that instance, you are no better than any drug dealer. You support an addict’s recovery by encouraging good behavior, not accepting bad behavior, and by being seemingly oblivious to their attempts to charm you. You connect them with resources that can help them, then back away and watch what happens.

Your resources are limited. You only have so much you can give away….only so much time, money, stuff, advice. The best investment is one that can take off and multiply and produce dividends.

In “Mary Poppins” George Banks was eventually called back in to have a talk with the bank president. While he was prepared to be fired, the truth had actually come out. It was discovered glitzy guy was a fraud….he was a famously bad investment for the other bank. George was a hero. And the less shiny man of good character? He not only repaid his loan, but he was so successful he was on target to produce much future bank business. The cream rose to the top.

Don’t throw out your money or your time or your resources around you indiscriminately. Invest. Invest in good men. Invest in good women. Great ideas are a wonderful thing, but a great idea in the hands of a person of poor character will usually not bear fruit. Spend well….and don’t be spent in the process.

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