Friday, April 18, 1999

The Rosa Parks Fribble

by Selena Maranjian

"Rosa Parks is an American hero
not because she held high office,
but because she was an ordinary citizen
with extraordinary courage."
     -- Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama

How true.

It's probably the ordinariness of Rosa Parks that makes her so much more inspiring to me than, say, George Washington or Mark McGwire. She was an ordinary seamstress, heading home after a tiring day at work in 1955. After plopping herself down in a seat in the black section of the bus, she refused to give up her seat to a white man who wanted it.

This much certainly doesn't seem like the stuff paradigm shifts are made of. While you and I probably can't imagine leading men into battle or hitting scores of home runs, we can imagine being on a bus, and being tired. Rose was doubly tired. She was tired because she'd been working hard, but she was also tired of the insulting, disrespectful status quo. It was wrong, and many people knew it, but she decided in a moment to stand up to it (by not standing up).

You and I are in a situation kind of like the one Rosa Parks found herself in. The status quo is unacceptable. Those with financial power tend not to respect us. Our loved ones are financially wronged. Just look at the world around us:

-- We're urged to invest in mutual funds that underperform the market.
-- We're urged to take chances on the lottery because... "hey, you never know."
-- We're told that we're not smart enough to manage our own money.
-- We stand by as companies hold closed conference calls with analysts they favor and keep from us material information about their businesses (our businesses, companies in which we hold stock).
-- We see our friends and neighbors, not knowing better, "taking a flyer" on penny stocks. Fortunes are being lost.
-- More and more people are being lured into day-trading. Fortunes are being lost.
-- Millions of people owe thousands of dollars on credit cards that charge upwards of 18% annual interest. Fortunes are being lost.
-- Too many people are being too conservative with their money, parking it in money market funds, CDs, or bonds for decades and decades. Fortunes are not being gained.

It's time -- it's always time -- for small Fools to speak up. To draw a deep breath of courage and take a little action. If you're a shareholder of a company that isn't opening up its conference calls to all investors, give the firm a jingle and express your displeasure. If your mutual funds haven't been keeping pace with the S&P 500, consider switching your money into an index fund, or better still, learn to invest in individual stocks on your own.

One of the easiest courageous acts you can engage in is simply talking about money with your friends and loved ones. Don't let them fall prey to ignorance and end up gambling on penny stocks; counting on sluggish mutual funds; choosing money market funds and bonds over stocks for the long haul; or wasting a lot of money each month on lottery tickets. Tell them of lessons you've learned. Tell them of a better way to live. (If you want, tell them about the Fool, using our new "Yo!" referral service.)

These little actions make a big difference.

I was struck a few years ago by the difference between Princess Diana and Mother Theresa. We praised and idolized the latter because she did what few of us ever could -- give up an ordinary life and dedicate her entire being to helping those in abject need. We admired her, but we couldn't relate to her. At the same time, many of us also admired Princess Diana. Why? Because, I think, she did what we could relate to. She didn't give herself 100% to good deeds, but she didn't put them off or avoid them, either. She began as an ordinary girl, but partly by doing the right thing now and then, she became extraordinary.

I'll wrap this up with a few words on the ordinary from the muse of Fooldom, Shakespeare:

"Methinks sometimes I have no more wit
than a Christian or an ordinary man has;
but I am a great eater of beef,
and I believe that does harm to my wit."
     -- William Shakespeare

Hmm... well, that wasn't particularly enlightening or clever now, was it? I suppose it does serve a purpose, though, to reveal that even the extraordinary among us have ordinary moments. Ol' Will apparently wasn't extraordinary 100% of the time. Perhaps then, we who consider ourselves ordinary will admit that we're probably not ordinary 100% of the time. There are times in our lives when we can and should take action. When we dare to make a difference in someone's life. When we become extraordinary.

[This has been another installment of Selena's Fribbles. If you're a glutton for the absurd, check out her archive.]

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