The Dad Lesson – II
It’s been a year since my dad (Prabhakar Pandit) passed away…There are so many lessons that he taught me through his actions and few words. Every day, I find myself yearning for his presence, for another chance to hear his voice. I miss him dearly…I miss our laughter…I miss our silly jokes…Before I get into this post, let me set its context…This is not a narrative steeped in sadness, or grief, but rather a reflection on a meaningful, uplifting, and hopeful lesson I learned from my father. More so, I intend to share a lesson from him annually in the first week of October, as a tribute to him…With this in mind, let’s explore today’s post…
“The time we live now is a thousand times better than the one we have lived…Things are much better…They might not be perfect, but they are better…If given the choice of the times I want to live in, I will choose now,” Dad said…
I responded, “I agree…things are certainly better now but many still don’t believe this.” I then shared a Diedre McCloskey quote with him, “for some reason people want to believe that the world is going to hell.”
Dad then told me a story – “There was a ward boy in my hometown (Karnataka)…He had learned some basic techniques of surgery. He was the only one in our village who would conduct surgeries. He even built a small hospital, in which there were no real doctors. However, this person was doing surgeries without anaesthesia, hygiene, and sometimes without light. People did not have much choice. It was horrible (the pain people went through for something very basic). Now we have so many options given the advances in medical science. And it’s not just in medicine but in every area of our lives. Yes, I know we need to do better in many things (in life), but the point I am making is that we have gotten so much better. The world is a much better place to live.”
At that point my mind raced to some interesting stuff Matt Ridley wrote in his book “The Rational Optimist”. “A constant drumbeat of pessimism usually drowns any triumphalist song. If you say the world is getting better, you may get away with being called naïve and insensitive. If you say the world is going to get better, you are considered embarrassingly mad.
If, on the other hand, you say catastrophe is imminent, you may expect a McArthur genius award or even the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Isn’t this true even in the world of investing?
Let me clarify (in case there is any doubt). I share the same mindset as dad about the world getting better. And he was (rationally) optimistic and hopeful. While these two words are used interchangeably, they are quite different. Hope is a sense that things can be made better through action while optimism is a feeling or belief that things will be better.
But pessimism is big business…The box office collection of pessimism is unimaginable. And it’s not just every Friday that we see a pessimism release. We see it daily, regularly, without fail.
Morgan Housel in his book “The Psychology of Money” wrote, “Growth is driven by compounding, which always takes time. Destruction is driven by single points of failure, which can happen in seconds, and loss of confidence, which can happen in a minute.”
It’s easier to create a narrative around pessimism because the story pieces tend to be fresher and more recent (rather daily). Optimistic narratives require looking at a long stretch of history and developments, which people tend to forget and take more effort to piece together.
Consider the progress (that dad was talking about) of medicine. Looking at the last year will do you little good. Any single decade won’t do much better. But looking at the last 50 years will show you something extraordinary. For example, the age-adjusted death rate per capita from heart disease has declined more than 70% since 1965, according to the National Institute of Health. A 70% decline in heart-disease death is enough to save millions of lives around the world every year.
The same thing happens in the stock markets, where a decline of 40% that takes place in six months will capture the imagination, but a 200% gain that takes place over six years can virtually go unnoticed.
And in career, where reputations take a lifetime to build and a single email to destroy.
The short sting of pessimism prevails while the powerful pull of optimism goes unnoticed.
In investing, you must identify the price of success – volatility – and be willing to pay it. There is no other way.
There are way more people in this world who want things to be better, not worse. And this demand for things to get better means better products and services (because people have the incentive to create these). And the winners in this process will get bigger. This means revenue grows. Some even get listed in the stock market. And as revenue grows, so do earnings. And earnings drive stock prices.
Things will get better despite our opinions, feelings, and beliefs. And Optimism is the best bet for most people most of the time.
At this point, I felt like sharing a poem that I love. It’s by Dorianne Laux from the book “How to Love the World (Poems of Gratitude and Hope) – edited by James Crews
In Any Event
If we are fractured
we are fractured
bred to shine in every direction, through any dimension, billions of years since and hence.
I shall not lament the human, not yet.
There is something
more to come, our hearts
a gold mine not yet plumbed,
an uncharted sea.
Nothing is gone forever.
If we came from dust and will return to dust
then we can find our way into anything.
What we are capable of
is not yet known,
and I praise us now,
While the poem ends here, I thought of rewriting the last paragraph of the poem as I felt something was missing…
What we are capable of
is not yet known,
In our hearts, seeds of greatness are sown.
With every challenge, our spirits have flown,
Unlocking realms of wisdom previously unknown (to us).
Thank You Dad…I Love You…