Smith: In 2017, feed the right wolf

There is an old Cherokee legend that says mankind is possessed by two wolves. One wolf is anger, revenge, cruelty and brutality. The second wolf is kindness, forgiveness, love and gratitude. The wolf that wins is the one that you feed.

As we look toward the future, it’s important to realize that many people are trying to frame it for us in ways that are either not true or scary. For some, the Trump administration will make life better. For others, Trump will lead America backward, perhaps into financial ruin and war.

My advice for 2017 is to frame your own view of the future. Don’t let it be swayed by holiday arguments with feisty relatives or by some of the true/false stories that are prancing across social media every hour.

Instead, do your own reporting and set your own course. Otherwise, you may feed the wrong wolf.

My view of the next year is that it will be challenging.

Nationally, the new administration will have its ups and downs as it settles into power. This is typical, and there will be plenty of people who will be telling us what to think. You can ride that emotional wave up and down, but it will be exhausting and, generally, a waste of time.

Better to give some thought to things closer to home.

On the personal finance front, the stock market is hard to predict. But interest rates are much easier to assess.

From my viewpoint, interest rates will continue to creep up in 2017 and now is the time to lock down a home loan. Also, it’s a very good time to buy a house.

Many have gotten used to these historically low rates, but they’re not here to stay. If you’re in an adjustable rate mortgage and planning to stay in your home for ten years, now is the time to refinance.

Let’s move on to Missouri-specific news. The best news in the state will be the new businesses that start up in what is promising to be a positive year for economic growth throughout the country. New businesses associated with the production of food, health care and renewable energy should get a careful look.

I’m particularly impressed by what I’m seeing at the bio-joint center at the Missouri Orthopedic Institute in Columbia, the medical research at Washington University and agriculture science at the Danforth Center in St. Louis.

Last month, I had surgery at the bio-joint center, which will save my knee for many years to come. My surgery was done by a doctor who was first in his medical class at Cornell and is a third-generation orthopedic surgeon. The technology used on me was not available until recently.

The trends to watch: Our population is getting older and larger. Food and water are becoming scarcer in our world. Disease can spread almost as quickly as rumors on social media. Fossil fuel is finite and a polluter. Look for those companies offering solutions.

Missouri will also pass several bills to supposedly make the state friendly to business. State taxes should decrease on a variety of levels, and Missouri will become less friendly to unions with right-to-work legislation.

The question is what this will cost the state in other benefits that employers require. Will we learn from the abject failure of what has occurred in Kansas? That state is in a race to the bottom on education and other services that make a locale attractive to business.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce has put together a 2030 plan for Missouri’s future. At the beginning, the plan notes that virtually every state around Missouri is surpassing us in income growth and GDP. With that observation, there’s a survey of Missouri businesses that says most of them feel the state’s high schools and colleges are not adequately preparing the workforce of the future.

To be competitive, Missouri needs to invest in K-12 and at the college level, the report says. Too, it needs to have measurable goals for those institutions to hit. With a Republican legislature and governor, there ought to be no excuses in getting this done.

Missouri should be known as the “Education State” instead of the “Show-me State.”

I’ve seen India and China transform themselves through education. Closer to home, I’ve watched states like the two Carolinas transform their economies from tobacco and textiles to higher-paying auto manufacturing and science-related industries. I’ve also seen failures like Kansas, where workforce education wasn’t a priority.

My final thought for 2017 is to check out what you hear. Since man was born, fake news has been making the rounds. Marcus Aurelius, who was one of Rome’s greatest emperors, was rumored to have died while fighting in Germania in about 175.

His wife, fearing that the royal family would be killed by a new leader, allied herself immediately with the Roman ruler in charge of Egypt. At her urging, he began amassing an army to lay claim to Rome.

And, then, Marcus Aurelius rode into Rome from Germania, and all hell broke loose.

So my advice in 2017 is to be a skeptic: Check things out before acting or saying something.

But most important, feed the right wolf. The cemetery is full of irreplaceable people who thought they were the smartest person in the room.

To quote Marcus Aurelius: “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

Randall Smith

Randall D. Smith is the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism and is the founder of Missouri Business Alert. He can be reached at






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