Posts Tagged taxes

Finding the Positive in Taxes and Flooding

My late grandfather once told me that paying taxes is a good thing. It means that you’re making money. I understand the logic behind that statement, and appreciate the optimistic perspective, even if my instinct is to argue against it.

Despite my conservative leanings, every April, I try to convince myself to think like Grandpa. On this tax day, I challenged myself to write about taxes from a positive perspective, while maintaining my boycott of social media politics.

That wasn’t easy. In the past week, I sent the government enough money to buy a new car, but that’s far from the end of my contributions. As a small business owner, I send checks every month, as well as pay quarterly estimates every three months. Also, as a business owner, I must match my Social Security and Medicare contributions. I’m very well aware of how much I am taxed.

For these reasons, it’s difficult to stay positive about taxes, especially at this time of year. I want to think about how I might have spent the money that I sent to the government. I want to complain about how the government spends my money. I want to whine about all of the time I spend preparing and planning for taxes. Those are my instincts, and they are difficult to suppress.

To maintain a positive attitude, we often have to suppress our instincts, especially when we know that those instincts lead us in a negative direction. This is especially true in challenging times. Complaining only makes a challenging situation that much more difficult.

The positive, can-do attitude I saw in response to the recent tragic flooding in my area was a powerful reminder of the importance of staying positive in trying times. It seemed that everywhere I looked during the flooding I saw examples of the strength of the human spirit, in spite of unfathomable challenges.

I saw great people, including some of my friends, helplessly watch the water rise around their homes and businesses. There was nothing that they could do but pray that the waters would subside, and I know that some of those people are very prayerful, yet their prayers were not answered, and the floods destroyed their homes and businesses.

The injustice of it all had to be overwhelming, I thought to myself. How do they not lash out at the devastation that seemed tremendously unfair? Could I be as strong?

Instead of complaining, I saw compassion and resolve. Friends, family and strangers alike united to help where and how they could. Instead of looking around with self-pity, flood victims rolled up their sleeves and salvaged what they could. They didn’t waste time complaining and looking for places to place their blame. They got to work and moved on.

In no way do I want to minimize the devastation caused by flooding. My tax challenges pale in comparison with those losses. I merely drew inspiration from their ability to preserve and thrive in an extremely difficult situation. Plus, my grandfather was right. I did have a good year, and that is a reason to be thankful.

So this year, instead of annual April 15th tradition of looking for fairness and grumbling about how I think that things should be different, I am at peace and have accepted things as they are.

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Taxing Frustrations

I don’t get angry as often as I used to, and even when I do, I usually can think my way through it and into better thoughts. Age, effort and targeted reading have helped me keep life’s challenges in perspective. That ability was recently challenged by an unexpected tax liability.

Whenever something doesn’t go right and introduces negative disruption to our lives, as this tax bill did, the natural reaction is anger. We feel slighted, wronged – victimized. Someone or something deserves our wrath. In this case, it was the IRS and politicians who create tax structures that stifle small business owners. I don’t want to whine or bore you with the details; I’ll just say that my troubles involve pass-through businesses.

As my accountant delivered the bad news, I became aware of my physical reaction to it. I felt a chill and tingling through my arms. My breathing became slightly more shallow and quicker. My eyes narrowed. These are perfectly natural biological impulses. Like our ancestors facing a saber-toothed tiger, when we experience anger, we are subconsciously experiencing a fight-or-flight response, and our body is preparing for that action.

In this way, anger is a good thing. When something is not right, we should fix it, if we can. If our children anger us because they are misbehaving at a dinner party, we need to act on that anger and do our best to correct the situation. If someone cuts us off on the freeway, however, it’s likely that there is nothing we can do to correct that situation. Sure, we can send them a message that we are unhappy, but what does that really accomplish? If they care what we think, they probably feel bad enough already. If they don’t care, they’re likely to respond with anger, which just escalates the potential negativity of the situation.

Too often, we misplace and overuse our anger, because we forget its main purpose – to alert us to evaluate a situation for correction. Again, in the case of the misbehaving child, there is a chance for correction, but that is not true of the traffic situation. Unfortunately, because we forget anger’s main purpose, we spend way too much time being angry about things we can’t change.

Maybe our favorite team makes a mistake that costs them an important game. I’ve seen people break furniture and throw things at the television screen during football games. How does that correct the situation? I once saw a church league softball player use his bat on his car after a frustrating game. Unless he was truly working on his swing, the only thing he was accomplishing was further anger when he realized the damage he had done.

Sometimes, we’re mad, but not mad enough to do anything about the cause of our anger. In these situations that we’re unwilling to change, anger accomplishes nothing. I see this a lot with relationships. We date people who are a constant irritation to us, but instead of finding a new place for our affection, we continue to expose ourselves to irritation. The same can be said of people who get angry at the weather. Throughout this past long Nebraska winter, I heard people declare, “This weather ticks me off,” and various less delicate phrases. Since the only way to change the weather is to move to a more agreeable climate, if you are unwilling to do that, you should probably just button up and shut up.

As absurd as most causes of anger is the justification we often use with its expression – I just needed to vent, to get it out. This is three-year-old, I-need-a-nap behavior. Because we’re unhappy, we need to negatively affect the environment around us. I once heard a colleague describe a perpetually angry manager we shared as a “fart in an elevator.” Don’t be that guy.

I had to remind myself of all of this as I faced the reality of my tax situation. My anger had alerted me to evaluate a situation for improvement. Since I cannot change tax law to improve my situation, and I’m unwilling to work as a W2 employee, acceptance trumped anger. And, since I don’t want to have the same social effect on my environment as flatulence, I reached for my checkbook and prepared for the next challenge.

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