By Lee Pitts

“Knock, knock,” said the speaker. “No, this is not a knock-knock joke like the kind you used to tell as a kid,” said the lecturer. (I was in the audience of a self-help training seminar for a group of agriculturalists who had come to hear a famous motivational speaker.)

“When I said knock knock, what did you hear?” asked the speaker. “Some of you heard opportunity knocking. You are optimists, you are optimistic about your life and your business. We refer to you as ‘Bulls.’ Now there are others in the audience, you know who you are, who heard that sound of opportunity knocking and just complained about the noise. These people we call pessimists. In business, we refer to you as ‘Bears.’

“‘Which are you,'” the speaker asked. “‘Are you a bull or are you a bear?'”

“Have you ever wondered why we refer to an optimist as a bull and a pessimist as a bear?” (I was paying $250 to learn something and the speaker was asking me all the questions!) “Financial bears actually take on the characteristics of their namesake. Financial bears generally have shaggy hair, hairy bodies and wide heads. They live in the dark and have teeth suitable for grinding. Financial bears are also an endangered species, the last ones being spotted during the Carter administration. They sleep half the year, have bad dispositions and can be very dangerous when injured. Financial bears never make as much money as bulls.”

“Bulls, on the other hand, are noble animals,” said the speaker (obviously a bull). “Bulls have been around since the Stone Age and have always been known as work animals. They can adapt to changing environments, are easily domesticated and haven’t read a newspaper for the last three years. They generally don’t worry about what happens as long as it happens to someone else. Nearly all rich people are financial bulls,” said the speaker. “Now that you know all this, which would you rather be, a bull or a bear?”

Having posed the question, the speaker went around the room and asked each one of us what animal we were. There were several sub-species of bulls in the crowd. The optimistic bulls included cattle feeders, millionaires who got into the purebred business, real estate brokers, 84-year-old codgers who still flirted with women, stocker operators, single men who were contemplating marriage and other optimists. We bears tended to migrate towards the back of the room. Our group included cow-calf operators, cowboys, bankers and other married men.

Lee Pitts

Naturally, the speaker zeroed in on our sad, little group figuring we needed the most help. He asked each one of us to stand up in front of the group and tell how we had become so bearish. It was kind of how I envision Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. A cow-calf operator stood up and said, “I’d sure like to be a bull but I worry about being too optimistic.”

Next, a cowboy got up, shuffled his feet and told the group. “I feel bad when I feel good because I’m afraid that I’ll feel worse when I feel better.” We all nodded in agreement, knowing the feeling quite well.

Finally, the banker got up and told his sad story. “I used to be bullish, in fact, I was a raging bull. But then I became a banker in a small agricultural community. The truth is, I changed from a bull to a bear.”

“Was it kind of like a sex change operation?” asked the cowboy as everyone laughed.

“No, nothing as drastic as that,” replied the banker. “I simply became a bear by financing too many bulls.”

Getting through this together, Paso Robles