I am sure all of you, as are all of us at The Allen Morris Company, are stunned by the sudden appearance of coronavirus on the global scene. The hypertensive media pulse of infection graphs and stock market charts lay siege to our hearts, the very core of our being, and hold captive for a time our brains desperate to establish a “new normal” and determine what steps are the right steps to take to calm the dramatic fallout for our businesses, family, and friends. If you are wondering whether the actions our country has taken so far are extreme, consider this quote I found recently by former Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Michael Leavitt: “Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after it will seem inadequate.”
While I am not credentialed to speak about the virus itself in terms of how it might progress or what we, individually, could, should, or should not do to curtail its treacherous trajectory of terror, I can speak as a real estate developer and investor who has survived a harrowing list of major crises that have threatened the health and wellbeing of our country and hometown of Miami, Florida over the course of the past 62 years (The Allen Morris Company was founded in 1958 by my father, L. Allen Morris, and so I remember and felt the effects of crises even as a boy, absorbing all that my father expressed on these topics).
Consider this list I compiled of 37 crises:
1. Vietnam war 1955 – 1975
2. Fidel Castro takeover of Cuba 1959
3. Hurricane Donna 1960
4. Bay of pigs invasion 1961
5. Cuban missile crisis 1962
6. Stock Market Slide 1962
7. President Kennedy assassination 1963
8. Hurricane Betsy 1965
9. Martin Luther King assassination 1968
10. National Race riots 1967
11. Stock market crash of 1971
12. Oil crisis of 1973
13. Real estate recession of 1973
14. Energy crisis 1979
15. Liberty city Miami riots 1980
16. Mariel boatlift crime wave 1980
17. The cold war 1985 – 1991
18. Stock market crash of 1987
19. Real estate recession of 1988 – 1995
20. Stock market mini-crash of 1989
21. Recession early 1990s
22. Gulf war 1990–1991
23. Hurricane Andrew 1991
24. Dot Com bubble burst 2000
25. 9/11 attacks 2001
26. Stock market mini-crash 2001
27. Stock market downturn 2002
28. Iraq war 2003–2011
29. Hurricane Katrina 2005
30. Financial crisis of 2007
31. US bear market 2007 – 2009
32. Real estate crash of 2008
33. Swine flu pandemic 2009
34. Ebola virus outbreak 2014
35. Zika virus 2016
36. North Korea missile crisis 2017–2018
37. Coronavirus Covid-19 2019-2020
Can you remember how any of these crises affected your life at the time? Have you ever felt like the world was about to end or that life would never again be the same? The human brain likes to think about things in terms of stories, and good stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. During a crisis, we don’t know how long the story will be or how it will end, and that lack of closure creates a feeling of unease. It’s scary to think about what might happen and it is easy to panic. Panicking, in turn, can lead to bad judgment calls that could last far longer than the crisis itself.
Once when I was scuba diving 100-ft deep in the Caribbean, my hand got cut on a piece of coral, which attracted a shark. Believe me, I was scared! The quickened beat of my heart throbbed in my ears like the drums of a marching band. If I had panicked, I could have drowned or gotten eaten by that shark. I could have tried to race to the water’s surface and suffered an agonizing case of the bends. Instead, I had the presence of mind to intentionally calm my thoughts, hold my cut and slowly make my way to the surface. The shark disappeared and now, instead of calamity, I have a great story to tell.
The 1987 stock market crash is another example that we can turn to for guidance. How many of you reading this blog experienced what that was like? For me, it feels like just yesterday. I could have panicked and sold everything at a colossal loss. Instead, I got lots of good counsel and decided to calm down, hold firm, and gradually diversified my portfolio into more stable commodities and government bonds. When I was in college flying a rented Piper Cherokee 6, I experienced total engine failure at night. I hate to think of what could have happened if I had panicked, but luckily, I managed to stay calm, focus, run through my check list, set up a glide path, and found a safe place to land. All six passengers on board the aircraft stepped out onto solid ground.
Today, reflecting earnestly on these past experiences, I can begin to lay out a game plan to get through the current crisis of coronavirus, including the implications of social distancing for businesses, and the sudden nosedive of the stock market. Beyond the sage advice to not panic – do not liquidate your stocks! I try to identify the opportunities. Better yet, each crisis has humbled me by reminding me once again that I am powerless to avoid life’s curveballs. My business success can make me feel like a genius until a crisis like this brings me back down to earth where I am forced once again to hunker down, calmly focus, and consider anew:
What is in my control?
What actions can I take?
What do I value?
What do I believe in?
In what or in whom do I trust?
Our money says “In God we trust.”
In this scary, severe time, consider that there is a “good side” to it that forces us to slow us down, reconnect with those we love in a deeper, kinder way, and to have time finally to find or renew our trust in God.
When I experience troubled water, I am particularly encouraged by God’s promises from His Word:
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”
LTN Isaiah 26:3
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
NIV Philippians 7-4:6
I encourage us all to stay open, trust and embrace His peace.
The attached video is a message I gave last Sunday at Granada Church in Coral Gables about my personal journey from Agnosticism to faith and why I trust God’s promises in the Bible through stressful times. I would welcome your feedback or questions.