I've discovered a new social axiom: You can't bring up the subject of stocks in a conversation. It is almost taboo in a sense, like sex. Let me explain.
Not long ago, I had a crush on a woman who worked at a local retailer. She dazzled me with her beauty every time I patronized her place of business, and I never ceased to find my tongue a useless entity whenever she was nearby. I knew there was no chance of getting to know her -- this was a beauty-and-beast situation, believe me -- but I still got a kick out of making small talk with her whenever I got the chance (as well as the moxie). Problem is, what do you say to an intimidating member of the opposite sex? One day, I decided to jokingly ask her whether she preferred Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) or Pepsi (NYSE: PEP ) . I would tell her that I hoped she said Coke because I owned stock in the company.
I mentioned this little anecdote to a friend of mine, and I was sort of bemused by his response. He asked, "Don't you think she'd find that a bit arrogant?" It didn't really occur to me. After all, everybody owns stocks these days, don't they? Sure, that rhetorical interrogative is an exaggeration, but certainly CNBC and mutual fund ownership via 401(k)s and the like have made stocks a less esoteric element of the cultural landscape. Right?
Hmmm. Maybe not. After my friend pointed this putative bit of arrogance out to me, I began to notice that, indeed, people probably were getting sick of hearing me talking about stocks I owned. I love the markets, and I love learning about them.
Friends, relatives, coworkers... I can't say for sure because I've never asked anybody outright (although I queried one coworker in an indirect manner who did seem to agree with my friend's assessment), but all these people did seem to have a slight problem with my marked market enthusiasm. In fact, some of those in my social circle at times have been curious as to whether I am a high-net-worth individual (I am not). All because I own shares of common stock in companies such as Disney (NYSE: DIS ) , General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , and Coca-Cola. Quite honestly, I had always assumed most people owned more stocks than I do, since I got in the game somewhat later in life... guess I was wrong.
Here's the essential ironic gist of this whole issue: If my colleagues really wanted to see me act in an arrogant fashion, I wouldn't be talking about the common-stock market. Common stocks are, well, kind of... common. Opening a brokerage account at a discounter such as Ameritrade (Nasdaq: AMTD ) and subsequently taking positions in such equities doesn't make someone a haughty, supercilious, affluent baron of the gilded age. It's not like I was talking about more complex investments such as REITs, preferred shares, or put options.
I'm just a guy who assumed too much -- I assumed that most individuals in contact with me would relish discussing the markets. But, as fellow Fool Bill Mann pointed out to me when we discussed this topic, people have a tendency to resist being lectured on a subject that is personal to them, whether they are ignorant about it or not. To me, one of the best ways to obtain wealth is through the equities market; the exchange of ideas is a success-driver in this area. That's why I like to talk stocks: I want that exchange so I can perhaps better my own investing returns. That's all I wanted. I didn't count on gaining a rep for being a stuffy, obnoxious blowhard.
So, no more asking people their current opinion of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) or Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) . What this tells me is that we have a long way to go in terms of educating people about all facets of investing. Let's hope today's teens will become adults who don't find the markets a discussion point that is exclusive to some hallowed lecture hall in an Ivy League setting.
Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Coca-Cola, Disney, and General Electric. And he hopes you don't think he is being arrogant when he encourages you to see the upcoming numinous thriller "The Village," to be released by Disney.