2011-Dec: What Is Transparency Anyway?
by Linda Boston Franke

Dec 31, 2011

Ray Hunt (1929-2009) is a man that we have greatly admired for many years. He was a fore-father of “horse whispering” and a master teacher with horsemanship like none other. In a clinic held 20 years ago in California, Ray made the following comment, “The horse is honest, you see. He can kick you and buck you off and that’s an honest approach. The human – that’s something else. But the horse — he’s straight. And he’ll come through, if you allow it….” (See Ray Hunt under "Horsemanship")

It was clear to all what Ray was getting at. The horse doesn’t pretend, doesn’t hide his thoughts and feelings, doesn’t cover up or try to fake it. But humans – well that’s an entirely different story. For some reason, humans are inherently and unavoidably dishonest. And not just the those who scheme and connive and commit crimes of deception – even the straightest shooter is subject to putting on a happy face on occasion or telling his wife how lovely she looks. And who wouldn’t withhold the secret hiding place of the family jewels from the thief who demands their whereabouts.

As the financial crisis of the last few years matured, the word transparency became part of the vernacular used to describe the missing piece in a flawed financial system. The concept of transparency involves the visibility and accessibility of all relevant factors related to a financial transaction – ie full disclosure. But while the quest for greater transparency forges ahead, the very nature of the quest may be counter to human nature and may therefore be doomed to failure. The crisis was facilitated by exotic financial instruments such as credit default swaps (CDS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO) that were used to mask the underlying composition of debt instruments sold to investors. Laws designed to foster greater transparency could easily backfire and result in the formation even more obscure, more convoluted forms of deception.

But what if transparency were coupled with the straight-forward honesty of a horse! A bank might tell people a loan that finances 100% of the value of the property could end up in foreclosure. Credit card companies and payday lenders might let people know how some of their programs are designed to put people deeper into debt. Businesses might tell people the product is designed to break down in two years so that they will be forced to buy another one. There would be no fancy-filled commercials, no pumping of dream stocks with the promise of 1000% gains, no get rich quick schemes and fixes. Indeed, if the straight-forward honesty of the horse dominated the human condition, there well may have been no financial crisis at all.

If humans were honest like the horse, we would know where we stand with each other. We could co-exist just like a herd of horses – there could be some biting and kicking as we sort out our positions “in the herd” but, in the end, we would live in peace.

There is a widely known story in the Bible about a couple who lived together in a garden. They were naked, or in other words, they were exposed, transparent, open and honest. At some point they ate the fruit, whatever that fruit was, and they suddenly felt the need to “cover themselves with fig leaves.” They entered the path of deceit and “cover up.” The story could be a great metaphor for the human condition, its failing, its “fall.”

As an antidote, how about we all adopt a herd of horses. Maybe some of their ways will rub off on us if we just spend some time with them. Personally I just can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

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