Critical thinking and mindfulness

impact of debt
Last November we triggered a long silence in our usually lively training room using cards printed on both sides (like the one displayed here): university students had just done their first draft budget… and it was not balanced. So how would they find the money? No problem – they could ask friends, or their parents, or siblings, or the Centre. So they picked up the “friends”, “parents” … card depending whom they would ask for money… : one side said “yes, of course we can help you.” Then when students flipped the card over, they could read what the friend, sibling or parent would have to do without because of the money they gave. Isn’t what financial education should be about: thinking twice about the consequences of our decisions not just on ourselves but also on others, and trying to be more responsible?
All our modules now include one session on ethics, usually as situations to reflect upon. Some apply to relationship within the family (“I need to buy several books for my studies. I call my parents to ask for money, but before I ask, my mother tells me my father is sick and she needs to find money to pay for the doctor. What should I do?”), or between friends; (“My friend had no money so I paid for her phone card. Today, she has earned money, so I want my money back.”) Some apply to business (I repair motorbikes for a living, like my neighbour next door. I tell people that my neighbour is really bad at repairing motorbikes.”) or work situations (“Sothea writes a monthly report with the number of new customers he contacted and their sales. Last month, he did very well and his boss congratulated him for his performance. This month, while writing his new report, he realises that he counted a customer twice under two different names in last month’s report. He hesitates… and keeps the two names again this month.”).
Some require a clear cut answer (“My parents call me: a man came around the village and proposed an investment in gold with a return of 20% a month. They are hopeful they can help me buy a computer. What should I do?”), others are more difficult (My friend asked me to buy a school book for him. But he never paid me back.). All prompt participants to think further.
Looking at the same fact through different points of view can also help us raise awareness on our biases or lack of mindfulness. For example, we use one simple fact (a flat tyre on a way to a temple…) and include it in various situations: Read these six situations:

  • I go to Oudong with my motorbike. I drive on a stone and have a flat tyre.
  • My friend and I go to Oudong with his motorbike. We drive on a stone and have a flat tyre.
  • My friend and I go to Oudong with his motorbike. We drive on a stone and have a flat tyre.
  • My friend goes to Oudong with my motorbike. He drives on a stone and has a flat tyre.
  • I pay a moto-taxi to go to Oudong. We drive on a stone and have a flat tyre.
  • I borrow my friend’s motorbike and go to Oudong. I drive on a stone and have a flat tyre.

How would you react to these situations? The fact is the same- only the ownership and the driver of the motorbike change… but our emotions and the way we react may be different.
Finally a great way to make participants feel that our money decisions impact others is the web game.
connected webParticipants stand in a circle and we throw each other a wool ball to make a web. This can be used as a review and each participant says one thing (s)he has learned for example. Then you (facilitator) pull on the thread and say: “do you notice we all feel the tension? When I borrow money from someone in my family or community, this will impact them then those they may borrow from, etc…” So managing money carefully and avoiding “debts by negligence” is not just for oneself, but it is also showing consideration and mindfulness to our families, relatives and community.
A Web of Debts: You can also use a story where one family has no savings to cover an expense that they could have anticipated, then each card shows the “domino” effect of their lack of savings: they borrow money from one person… who then borrows from another, etc… You can see a video format of this story (you can download the material in module 3 on debts of Money Basics).

Money counts, people matter.

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