My parents’ best year as small-town Southern Illinois merchants was 1968 — even though our country was torn apart at the seams.
You think 2016 is crazy? Forty-eight years ago, the United States was fiercely un-united.
It was a nasty election year full of dirty tricks, with Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey in a contentious Presidential election face-off.
Then Nixon devised his Southern strategy, using racial tension to capture the hearts of angry white working-class Southern Democrats.
Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was shot and killed in Los Angeles, the day of the critical California primary and only five years after the country lost his brother Jack to an assassin’s bullet.
And 1968 was the year pacifist civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., was gunned down in Memphis.
Our nation’s cities were on fire from urban riots; the untractable Vietnam War was at its apex, and young protesters had taken to the streets in a sustaining outcry of discontent about almost everything American.
One Haiku Deck that I found uses a series of single words to describe 1968: “violence, political, race, protests, depressing, change and rebellious.”
Then and now
Indeed, the similarities between then and now are eerie.
Race is again at the forefront of the country’s political and social agenda; many working-class Americans are in a swoon over a candidate who has tapped into their rage; young people are challenging the insider political system; foreign frenzy is threatening us at home; urban riots are common.
Even the details are similar. Olympian runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics when they were awarded their Olympic medals.
This summer as players rose to stand for the national anthem at a pre-season NFL football game, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained seated in protest of how minorities are treated. Other players are now following in his footsteps, fomenting a lively debate over patriotism versus free expression.
And like 1968, uncertainty runs through our culture like a creepy spider you cannot banish from your bedroom.
Back to my parents. These externalities did not stop them from expanding their business and growing their little enterprise. Nor did events that no one can control scare people away from buying socks, shoes and dresses.
Life went on. My Dad would often say things could be much worse, pointing to World War II and the Great Depression, where feelings and memories ran deep.
But is it enough to be blissfully positive? No. These times test us, forcing us to be engaged, focused and willing to openly discuss with our friends and customers how these affairs might shape decisions that they are making.
And uncertainty may persist. Economic and political woes destabilized the country throughout the 1970s.
Today, homegrown terrorism, racial fractures and economic divisions are not problems that are easy to fix, despite what the politicos promise.
Uncertainty and housing
The ricochet from a year of unrest began to creep into the housing market this summer, first with a slowing high-end luxury market and now across the board. Now more than ever is the time to have intelligent discussions with customers, reassuring them with facts, market intelligence and honesty.
For the first time in 30 years, my financial advisor (stockbroker) is not telling me to be less liquid and not advising me to take a chance on diversifying my portfolio into more stocks. Waiting a few months is OK, he advises.
Could you imagine telling your clients not to buy a house?
Instead, discuss the uncertain times — including how real estate generally remains a safe place to park your money, with the lowest carrying costs in history and interest rates at rock bottom.
Also, tell them that institutions are giving real estate new credibility as an investment asset class.
This month, real estate stocks got their own home in the Standard and Poor’s 500. Real estate shares are now split off from financials to become the 11th sector of the S&P.
More reliable real estate market indices and homebuying and selling marketplaces are bringing more transparency and predictability to property ownership.
Technology helps makes this possible, and someday soon we will see hedge instruments to guard against price swings and value shifts. All of which helps create certainty in uncertain times.
Real estate agents have never had more localized tools to deliver quality market information to their customers. And being smart has never been at more of a premium.
Did you ever show up unprepared for a listing presentation, a speech or an important meeting? You may have gotten away with it just using your natural wonderfulness to win the deal.
Try that tactic at times like this, and you will certainly lose the day.
People want credible, clear-headed and factual advice. Why? Because they need it. We all do.