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  • Reverend James Squire

A Bull, a Bear, and a porcupine Walked into a Bar...




I am grateful for information on the derivation of the terms bull and bear stock market by Mary Hall in her article in Investopedia on November 30, 2021. I have known that a bear market refers to a decline in prices on the stock market, usually for a few months or more. A bull market is the period in the stock market where prices are rising. 20% is the typical percentage to describe how much the market rises to become a bull market, and 20% describes how much a bear market is a reduction in prices. One communicates a healthy economy and the other indicates that there are too many challenges for the economy to overcome.


Obviously, investors prefer a bull market. But I had a question that was answered by Ms. Hall in her article. How come these two market adjustments have been assigned animals to describe them? There are several explanations to answer this question, but the dominant thought is that the “bull attacks by bringing their horns upward, while bears attack by swiping their paws downward.”


I learned that there is literary evidence supporting the assignment of these two terms to a strong market and a weak one. In 1709 Richard Steele wrote an essay in The Tatler, a British literary and society journal, defined a bear as “an individual who places real value on an imaginary object.” Daniel Defoe wrote in The Political History of the Devil published in 1726 that every dissemble, every false friend, every secret cheat, every bear skin jobber (seller), has a cloven foot.”


In essence, the bear represented cheaters and false friends and describes a person with little integrity that translates to a person who lives an inauthentic life. It is the opposite of the EA motto, Esse Quam Videri, to be rather than to seem to be.


Why not use the bull and bear images to describe relationships that fail and those that thrive? We give human characteristics to animals. Why not reverse that to assign animal characteristics to humans.


Clearly when we are in relationship with others, we don’t want to be with someone who lies, cheats and lives the inauthentic life. We all have that possibility within us so attitudes could be made that you are bearish today because you are basing your actions on thoughts that are false and not based in integrity.


The bull could describe relationships that thrive because they are based in solid values that help us thrive. Bears make us feel bad. Bulls make us feel good.


I don’t know much about investing, but from the little I do know, who would want to be called a bear when we have the ability to be a bull?


But let us not forget a new addition to the symbols of the bull and bear on Wall Street. It is the fearless girl bronze statue installed in front of the iconic charging Bull that was installed by State Street Global Advisors on the eve of an International Women’s Day to encourage women’s presence as leaders in the financial markets. The reaction to it was strong and powerful. Fearless girl could be those parts of us that strive for equality for all which should be the basis of our relationships and democracy. There are three positions in relationships, one up, one down, and shared power. The little girl bronze statue should remind us of our ongoing goal for the shared power that is at the heart of healthy relationships and the heartbeat of a democracy.


There is one more important animal that is the key to relationships which I often use as the mascot for marriage and other significant relationships. It is the porcupine. It is one of the secrets to a happy life. The porcupines huddle together during the Winter to stay warm. However, they inadvertently prick one another and must move apart, and then move back to being together again to a more intimate life.


People in relationships need to be both independent and interdependent and sometimes need to make a “correction”, to use an investor’s term, to achieve a balance.


They need to find this ebb and flow of the “bear” and “bull” remembering that we are human. The answer is to stay as “bullish” as we can be remembering that little girl bronze statue that encourages us to remember the importance of equality. One of my heroes, Dr. Paul Farmer, who recently died too young, brought healthcare to the most impoverished in the world. He said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”


The bear, bull, and porcupine only impact us if the fearless girl is always a part of the equation for a bull, a bear, and a porcupine walked into a bar…in the shadow of a little girl who must cast a long shadow over them before they enter.

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