The Jungle Book
In his classic short story, the Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling attributes the ability to manipulate fire as the dividing line between man and beast. Man’s “Red Flower” is understood by the animals as power, a means to dominion over those that fail to grasp its secrets. For years any further subtext into the metaphor was lost on me, probably reinforced by the (admittedly awesome) Disney animated film.
Recently, however, I re-read this story and found a more profound meaning that resonates with my job as a VA loan specialist. In the story and the cartoon for that matter, Mowgli ultimately decides to return to live in the village among humans. If we were to assume that the author meant fire to be a metaphor for something as basic and abstract as “power” the ending would seem sad. But when Mowgli watches those in the village from afar, they are hardly laying waste to the land with fire. Humans in the story are not maniacs, hell-bent on lording over their domain with flaming branches. They are living out a tame existence, using fire to cook, to heat their homes, to clear land for villages, to protect themselves from creatures, etc. This juxtaposition demonstrates how shifting one’s perspective can alter the fundamental nature we attribute to something. Fire as a barely bridled weapon of fear, destroyer of life when viewed narrowly. Fire as a sustainer of life for another providing heat, clearing land for shelter, cooking and perhaps most relevantly to keep animals at bay.
Regarding VA loans, the metaphor is less obvious at first glance but ultimately resonates with a similar meaning. For the majority of veteran borrowers, a VA mortgage is a partially understood vehicle that can provide a means to homeownership. An unfortunate few realize that a VA mortgage (like fire) is not something to be feared but rather a tool, which, if mastered can provide more than crude shelter, but a means to unlock financial opportunities to lead a freer more enriched life. While the responsibility rests ultimately on the veteran buyer (“Caveat Emptor”) to learn of fire, a more critical look at our society might suggest the basic principles of lending are adequately disclosed but not adequately transmitted to those people to whom mortgages are made available. This tragic phenomenon is less exclusive to veterans than it is to the access of debt we offer young and inexperienced borrowers. Billions of dollars are made each year at the expense of borrowers to whom the concept, power and scope of debt concepts are adequately explained. Like fire, as the recent American debt picture suggests, many have been “burned” by the lure of seemingly easy access to debt. However, more millionaires and Fortune 500 companies have been built on carefully leveraged debt models as a standard practice of modern business.
Looking back on the novel with this in mind, I now understand that maybe the solution set to the balance equation presented between fire/debt is less important than the scale by which it is measured. A scale that is one in the same, one I try to keep in mind when I discuss loan options with my clients. Though I was never a financial scholar, the knowledge I’ve accrued about basic finance working with VA home loan borrowers has and will serve me for the rest of my life. Therefore, I understand that the best and most honorable way for me to faithfully execute my responsibility as a VA loan Specialist isn’t to push a rate or an agenda, but to determine what the borrower knows, to demystify the concept of debt, to speak openly of its potential and liability, and to guide them to a place where a confident application can be made. It’s always surprising how a simple perspective shift can open doors of understanding to opportunity, just as re-reading a childhood classic can