The topic we wanted to avoid in 2020

There’s been a changing of the guard in terms of taboo topics in this pandemic year, according to a global survey.

Politics has overtaken money as the world’s No. 1 taboo conversation, and are you really surprised?

The annual global survey conducted by financial adviser deVere Group found 48 per cent of those polled ranked politics as the most difficult subject to discuss with family, friends and colleagues in 2020.

It came ahead of personal finance (34 per cent), sex and relationships (9 per cent), religion (5 per cent), and health issues (4 per cent) in the study of 750-plus clients.

In the 2019 survey, 56 per cent of those asked cited money as the hardest topic. It was the same in previous years.

“This has been a year of immense political polarisation around the world,” says deVere Group CEO Nigel Green.

“Governments’ handling of the pandemic, and events such as the US presidential election, Brexit, tensions in South Asia and in the Gulf, among other factors, have made things seem more divisive and partisan than ever.

“Therefore, it is perhaps of little surprise that 2020’s biggest conversation taboo is politics.”

Mr Green, not surprisingly, took the opportunity to claim money has become ‘destigmatised’.

“Money is a critical part of our lives, it gives us freedom, security and opportunity.”

Specifically, Mr Green contends that the pandemic has focussed attention on the need to draw up a will. Baby boomers are about to participate in what he calls the ‘Great Transfer of Wealth’.

“Tens of trillions of dollars of assets are to be passed down from the baby boomers – the wealthiest generation ever – to their children and other heirs over the next few years.

“As such, increasingly, individuals are taking appropriate estate planning advice to avoid paying unnecessary inheritance tax and having beneficiaries miss out on their legacy.”

We all need to make a living and want our families to be comfortable. But is that why politics has overtaken money as the world’s taboo subject?

More than 75 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2020. For much of the rest of the world, it’s hard to compute Mr Trump’s appeal. The US has experienced a failed pandemic response, an economic downturn and a racial justice crisis and President Trump’s list of personal misdemeanours is long.

After results of the election were certified by officials from both sides, only 15 per cent of his followers accept the reality that President Trump lost the election by more than seven million votes.

Evidence is not enough to convince people politically any more. It has become personal, and a matter of one’s identity.

Trying to explain the “rejection of verified reality”, Berkeley scholars have suggested that “this is a story not just of numbers, but of a complex interplay of class and racial antagonism, aggravated by despair and social drift and amplified by new communication platforms, converging to what some see as a troubling psychological phenomenon”.

It’s not just about politics, it’s about feelings and psychology.

Researchers at Yale University and the University of Oslo have found people whose identity is ‘fused’ with that of a political leader are more likely to take extreme positions or commit violence on behalf of the leader.

“This is not about Democrats or Republicans,” said John (‘Jack’) Dovidio, professor of psychology at Yale and co-author of a paper on fusion with political leaders.

“When you fuse with a leader you are prone to abandon the values you had in a past life and engage in extreme actions in support of the leader.

“I identify with Yale and the leaders of Yale, but when Yale does something wrong, I can oppose that action,” Prof. Dovidio said. “You lose that broader perspective when there is fusion with a leader.”

Social psychologist Professor William Swann spearheaded research into identity fusion. He called it self-verification theory.

He told The Atlantic that self-views help us “maintain a sense of continuity and order”.

“When people know their role in any particular dynamic, they predictably play the part, even when doing so is self-destructive.”

His theory contends that we “try to bring reality into harmony with our long-standing beliefs about ourselves”.

Berkeley Haas leadership expert Jennifer Chatman says “small escalations of personal commitment” lead to immense loyalty.

“People begin to identify with the group and feel accountable to its members and especially to the leader. They fear that defection would let others down, or that they could be rejected by this group with which their identity has become deeply connected. So, when Trump doesn’t release his taxes, or has a dalliance with a porn star, or abuses his power, his allies develop a supportive rationale and remain ardently loyal.

“Every time a person stays after one of those infractions, it’s harder for them to pull out the next time,” she said. “They have an increasing set of commitments, and if they pulled out, they’d have to say to themselves, ‘Was I stupid before? Was I blind?’

“It’s much easier and more cognitively consistent to stay in and say, ‘Oh, the media, the Democrats, they’re not giving him a fair shot.’ “

Whatever the answers, there is more going on in the world than people becoming more comfortable talking about money.

What are your biggest taboo topics? Did they change in 2020?

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