There’s been a lot of focus on the stock market lately.  I have to confess — I don’t know much about it.  I’ve never owned stock, and so all of the uproar goes on largely unnoticed by me, since my day is not affected whether things go up or down.  Just the same, it got me to thinking.

I talk quite a bit about investing in people.  It’s a phrase I and those closest to me use so often that I assume it’s meaning to be generally understood.  Yet it occurred to me recently that this may well not be the case.

In the typical sense of investment, one gives with the hope – and perhaps expectation – of gaining something of greater value in return.  I invest $10 and I get back $20.  Something to this effect.

Moreover, an investment at its best is assumed to be mutually beneficial.  I lend you something you need now, and you return it to me with a percentage increase later.  I help you succeed up front, and you share that success with me down the road.

Of course, as recent trends will confirm, investment always involves risk, as well.  I give, as I said, hoping or expecting something in return – but knowing full well that I may get nothing in return.  If you lose, I lose.  It’s par for the course.

In financial investments, there is research involved.  I check you out, as it were.  I only invest in those areas where the chances of a good return are relatively solid.  However, once in a while, I invest in a new venture with no track record, because I believe in its merit and ability to succeed, though this has in no way been proven to me.

Investing in people is similar in many ways.  Yet it differs on some key points, as well.

While I expect nothing, I do hope for a return and increase when I invest in people.  But I do not expect to keep the profits.  In a way, it’s like taking some of the seed for my garden and tossing it over the fence into my neighbor’s barren yard.  While I hope to look over that fence and see growth begin, the benefit is not experienced in my own yard, in terms of personal increase.

At its best, investing in others is also mutually beneficial.  By investing in friends, I develop solid relationships with people who are also willfully investing in me.  Additionally in my case, by investing in teens, I have gained some invaluable adult friendships over the years, some that I know will last a lifetime.

There is also a now-and-later principle at work in interpersonal investments.  Sometimes, I invest in a teen for quite a long time before seeing positive change really take root and flourish.  In addition, there are many times when I am low on commodities such as perspective or peace, and friends “lend” me some of theirs.  Later, when they are running low, I can give them some of my own.  Sharing a good meal or favorite movie or late-night talk with a friend is of value any time, to be certain.  But it does seem to have even greater returns when the particular timing of it helps to lift you out of a pit.

The returns when investing in people are not always direct.  I don’t give love to get love back.  I may get love back.  How wonderful when this happens!  But even if it does not, there is still a return of love in a different way – that is, I have better learned to love.  I have multiplied my own ability to love, making future successful investments all the more profitable.  Likewise, though someone may not respond as I had hoped to my investment of patience or kindness, I have learned to become more patient all the same.  More kind.  More diverse and creative in my approach.  And these things are always of great value.

As with finances, there is a risk involved when investing in another person.  Those thrown seeds may not take root and grow.  They may grow and be torn up as weeds.  Or they may get nearly to fruition, only to be neglected, unwatered, left to be sun scorched.  And this is always sad to watch.

Once in a great while, I do cut my losses, as it were.  While I can honestly say that I have never given up on someone in whom I have invested, I have made the choice to withhold certain “revenues” where there have been deliberate acts of waste.  For instance, I will not invest years of consistent time and energy into an addict who does not want to change.  If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you may recall that I did this at one time with John, a young man I took in for a while, but who willfully chose to continue using and lying about it.  For both our sakes, I had to make the heart-wrenching choice to put him out (I’m happy to say again here that he made it and is now a successful, grounded adult).

In such cases, however, I continue to invest my love and care.  I cannot count the times I have had to say, “I can’t help you any more right now, because you won’t invest in helping yourself.  But I will come and be with you where you are, cry with you in the gutter, or visit you in prison if that’s how it must be for a while.”

However, the wonderful truth is that, unlike money, personal investment banks don’t deplete.

First, I can invest all of my love in each of several markets.  It’s really rather amazing, that I can love someone with all the love I have and also love someone else with the same amount of love.  Countless parents with several children will concur.

What’s more, though I may invest love in many human directions, whether that “love stock” skyrockets or plummets, I will not run out.  There will always be more love I can choose to give.  More patience.  More encouragement.  More hope.  And so, I can invest fully, confident that no matter what happens, I will have more to invest the next time, if I so choose.

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