An observation worth considering from Vermont monks

Interviewing to be a monk would not end well for me. I can hear it now, the impassioned reasoning: "Well, you see, markets get intense and stressful, and to stay calm I was thinking about yoga, but finance people get competitive at calming down, and the monk life seems even better than yoga. And I wore a brown robe in the 6th grade Christmas pageant, so there's that too."

And you do have to apply. I know because I've been reading a monastery web site. This monastery is on the summit of Mount Equinox in Southern Vermont. My first thought, when doing some reconnaissance on Google Maps, was "how did they get an Act 250 permit for that location?" For those of you who have travelled through Manchester, VT, Mt Equinox is the big mountain that flanks the town. It's the one you think "Because someone didn't build a ski area there, I have to ski Stratton." (Or as my kids call it, "Flatten.")

Long and short is that I am disallowed from applying due to my age. I am 45, and the website sets the cutoff at 40. It says:

applicants over 40 are not often admitted as they, in general, are already "formed" and habituated to the ways of the world.

Given that monks have a lot of time to think, I assume this statement has gravitas. This is not "Bartholomew, throw something on the website to get some Google traffic, our maple syrup sales are running low."

So we should consider it. It brings up a serious question around age and open-mindedness to ideas. New ideas often come from young people, as they have no emotional connection to the past. In fact, when you are young and not part of the establishment, receptivity to new ideas is an advantage. There is a reason the founders of Apple proclaimed "it's better to be a pirate than join the Navy."

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet's partner, at age 97, does not represent America's youth. Yet he speaks at length about the mental rigidity problem, and his solution: "invert, always invert." Or, to go to the original German, "man muss immer umkehren," which is relevant because Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi, the German mathematician, whose parents apparently liked the name Jacob, came up with it.

If someone presents an investment idea, what is the opposite of the idea, and why is the opposite wrong? If you make a judgment on a business and sell its shares, why are you more correct than the buyer? Can you hold two opposing ideas in your head at the same time, and then decide? Are all of your ideas forever "formed?"

Dan Cunningham

1. Act 250 is a development law in Vermont that disallows almost all construction over 2,500 ft of elevation.
2. In fairness, someone did try to put a ski area on Mt Equinox. Link.
3. The story of the Carthusian Order on Mount Equinox is fascinating. The only order of its kind in the U.S., they are devoted to silence and a quest for grace. They were founded by the man who purified the uranium for the most destructive weapon in the world, the atomic bomb. Story here.

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