“My job, as I see it, is to learn from other people’s mistakes and from my own. Above all, it means trying to save people from themselves,” Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal writes:
Every columnist knows that if you ever write something that didn’t make anybody angry, you blew it. People don’t like having their preconceived notions jolted, and doubt and ambiguity are alien to the way most investors think.
That’s why I’m realistic. I don’t ever expect to convert all my readers to my viewpoint. I would be a fool to think I could. But I’d be a worse fool if I ever stopped trying.
So you can understand exactly where I am coming from, I will tell you a story.
My senior year of college, my father was dying of lung cancer. Most weekends, I would take the train up from New York City to Fort Edward (then the nearest train station to where I grew up in rural upstate New York).
On one of my last visits, even as my father was in severe pain, he asked me the same question he always did: What are you reading?
I fluffed my feathers a bit and said: Kierkegaard. “What is he telling you?” asked my dad. I had just been reading a volume of Kierkegaard’s journals on the train, immersed in the poetic ruminations of the great Danish philosopher. So I immediately spouted, verbatim and with the appropriate pauses for world-weary effect, the words I still remember to this day: “No individual can assist or save the age. He can only express that it is lost.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, my dad retorted: “He’s right. But that’s exactly why you must try to assist and save the age.”
In that one moment, my dad put a callow youth gently in his place, out-existentialized the great existentialist and gave me words to conduct a career by.
Only years later did I understand fully what he meant: We can’t assist or save the age, but the attempt to do so is the only way we have of even coming close to realizing some dignity and meaning for our lives. The longer the odds, the greater the obligation to try to beat them. That’s why I keep at it, even though I have profound doubts that most people will ever learn how to be better investors. I never expect everyone to listen; all I ever hope for is to get someone to listen.
Read the whole thing.