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The Heilbrunn Center for Graham and Dodd Investing created a wonderful video in 2013 titled ‘Legacy of Ben Graham,’ which contains bytes from some of his students on how Graham’s teachings changed their lives.
Marshall Weinberg, one of the students from Graham’s class said that the biggest lesson he drew out of that class was on long-term thinking. Here’s what he said –
One sentence changed my life…Ben Graham opened the course by saying: ‘If you want to make money in Wall Street you must have the proper psychological attitude. No one expresses it better than Spinoza the philosopher.’
When he said that, I nearly jumped out of my course. What? I suddenly look up, and he said, and I remember exactly what he said: ‘Spinoza said you must look at things in the aspect of eternity.’ And that’s what suddenly hooked me on Ben Graham.
Spinoza actually said, “Sub specie aeternitatis,” which translates to “under the aspect of eternity,” or “from the perspective of the eternal.”
Critics of this idea may believe that with such thinking, there is no reason to believe that anything matters. But where Spinoza may be coming from is the idea that, in the larger scheme of things, nothing matters, which leads us to put our pains and struggles – including, as investors – into perspective.
Much of the time, in life and in investing, we would be better off zooming out than zooming in. Rather than being ticker watchers of our own lives, and rather than zooming in and magnifying and thus worrying about the daily volatility in our stocks, we would be better off thinking about our lives and investments as pale dots that are just specks on the canvas of eternity.
Within this, if we keep doing our work well, the daily motions and volatility that we pass by must not worry us, therefore.
Like what Weinberg said about Graham, here was the father of value investing teaching his students about the value of long-term thinking, and that too in terms of eternity. Now, almost seven decades later, we would be paying true homage to Graham if we could view investing through a wide-angle lens, taking a long-term perspective, and striving for a long, sustained upward trend in our well-chosen stocks instead of getting worried about the short-term volatility in their prices.
This may not help us eliminate all mistakes we may make as investors, but it can give us the tool to treat our investments and portfolios just a little bit better.
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