I recently completed a wonderful, classic book called The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. It has great applicability to all relationships, not just your primary one with your spouse or significant other. I found there was also a lot to apply in terms of helping us at CWS to build upon our tremendous focus on communicating with and serving our investors. I’m going to discuss this book over the next three weeks. I thought it would be a good topic to broach during the Thanksgiving holiday and as we head into Christmas. This week I will touch on how one must prepare oneself to master the art of loving, next week on how one of the key attributes required to be a loving person, concentration, has great application to the world of investing. And finally, the last installment will discuss how I think it can be applied to firms like CWS.
Fromm’s first assertion is that since loving is an art form it requires discipline to master. Since love is all-encompassing it cannot be a form of compartmentalized discipline, but it must be applied to one’s entire life. As Fromm says, “Without such discipline…life becomes shattered, chaotic, and lacks in concentration.” Concentration is vitally important to building discipline and we all know concentration is very difficult to master in our digital age.
While many of us understandably (and probably rightly) think we are the most distracted age in history, Fromm points out that lack of concentration was an issue when he wrote the book in 1956. This is what he had to say about it:
“Yet, even more than self-discipline, concentration is rare in our culture. On the contrary, our culture leads to an unconcentrated and diffused mode of life, hardly paralleled anywhere else. You do many things at once; you read, listen to the radio, talk, smoke, eat, drink. You are the consumer with the open mouth, eager and ready to swallow everything—pictures, liquor, knowledge. This lack of concentration is clearly shown in our difficulty in being alone with ourselves.”
Add to his list checking our phones on average 80 times per day and the problem has compounded to a monstrous extent. As one of the conditions for learning how to love is learning how to concentrate, the ironic byproduct of this is that in order to do this one must learn how to be alone with oneself. According to Fromm,
“Indeed, to be able to concentrate means to be able to be alone with oneself—and this ability is precisely a condition for the ability to love. If I am attached to another person because I cannot stand on my own feet, he or she may be a lifesaver, but the relationship is not one of love. Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love. Anyone who tries to be alone with himself will discover how difficult it is.”
To cultivate this one should also bring the intense concentration to everything one does to build up that muscle. It means being fully present without distraction. To quote the actor Gary Busey in a recent, fascinating interview he did with Howard Stern, he asked Howard if he knew what NOW stood for? Busey said it stood for No Other Way. I thought this was quite brilliant and insightful. There is only now and once we accept that fact and embrace it to our core and invest in it fully then we will find much more meaning, joy, and fulfillment from life as well as be of great service to others. And when it comes to being there for others in a concentrated manner, this means listening intently to what is expressed (and unexpressed) by those we are focusing on. Fromm also wrote a book called The Art of Listening which shows how important he thought this skill is in life.
In addition to discipline and concentration, patience is also a must. This has great applicability to investing as many want to make the quick hit and then cash in our chips so we don’t have to work again if we so choose. Unfortunately (or fortunately) it’s not that simple and life doesn’t usually unfold that way. In fact, quite the opposite in that those wanting quick rewards tend to lose money and have to work even harder just to get back to where they began and end up falling far behind the more patient, disciplined investor. Here is what Fromm said about patience and how our economic system emphasizes quickness over patience.
“If one is after quick results, one never learns an art. Yet, for modern man, patience is as difficult to practice as discipline and concentration. Our whole industrial system fosters exactly the opposite: quickness. All our machines are designed for quickness: the car and airplane bring us quickly to our destination—and the quicker the better. The machine which can produce the same quantity in half the time is twice as good as the older and slower one. Of course, there are important economic reasons for this. But, as in so many other aspects, human values have become determined by economic values. What is good for machines must be good for man—so goes the logic. Modern man thinks he loses something—time—when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains—except kill it.”
Finally, the mastery of any art must be all-encompassing. According to Fromm,
“Eventually, a condition of learning any art is a supreme concern with the mastery of the art. If the art is not something of supreme importance, the apprentice will never learn it. He will remain, at best, a good dilettante, but will never become a master. This condition is as necessary for the art of loving as for any other art.”
Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, George Soros, Stanley Druckenmiller, Peter Lynch, John Templeton, etc. did not achieve such great success in their investment careers by dabbling in it. They were deeply interested in mastering investment knowledge, learning from their mistakes, developing pattern recognition, thinking independently, knowing their core competencies, and taking risk commensurate with the reward but always being cognizant of the downside. They learned how to focus on ignorance removal in the parlance of Charlie Munger. They did better over time by becoming less stupid over time. And this could only come through patience, deep rationality, humility, taking risks, and learning from one’s mistakes.
So now we have Fromm’s recipe for mastering the art of loving which is comprised of discipline, concentration, patience, and deep commitment to one’s craft. And as previously mentioned, these must be practiced in all aspects of one’s life but not in a mechanized, rules-based manner imposed from the outside. It must reflect one’s personality and unique will that is felt as pleasant and if the behaviors stopped they would be missed. Exercise is a good example of this for me. I have always known that I should exercise but it was only until I decided that I wanted to in ways that I found enjoyable that I have now reached the point that I miss it if I do not do it with some sort of routine. You know you have taken important steps on the road to self-improvement when you now miss what you initially did not want to do because of how difficult you thought it would be.
All of these ingredients look rather simple to attain on paper. They are much more elusive in reality, particularly when seeking to acquire all of them. According to Fromm, one can only have these characteristics if one is actively engaged in life and not sleepwalking through it. The key to this is avoiding boredom, which we all know can sap our energy and productivity. This is what Fromm says about it:
“To be fully awake is the condition for not being bored, or being boring—and indeed, not to be bored or boring is one of the main conditions for loving. To be active in thought, feeling, with one’s eyes and ears, throughout the day, to avoid inner laziness, be it in the form of being receptive, hoarding, or plain wasting one’s time, is an indispensable condition for the practice of the art of loving. It is an illusion to believe that one can separate life in such a way that one is productive in the sphere of love and unproductive in all other spheres. Productiveness does not permit of such a division of labor. The capacity to love demands a state of intensity, awakeness, enhanced vitality, which can only be the result of a productive and active orientation in many other spheres of life. If one is not productive in other spheres, one is not productive in love either.”
I hope during this Thanksgiving week you can find the opportunity to practice the art of loving with your family and friends.