Grow Your Portfolio the Intelligent Way

Avoid the ‘Tearing of the Flesh’

By Jim Woods

I’ve had a few recent encounters with people who have demonstrated a form of behavior that I find vexing, caustic and very revealing. That behavior is sarcasm, and it’s an ugly trait that should be avoided in others, and in ourselves.

I say this, because contrary to popular belief, sarcasm isn’t just witty humor, or a sign of intelligence or mere kidding around at another’s expense. I am not referring here to good-natured jocularity. Rather, I am referring to the actual nature of sarcasm, which is a form of hostility toward others and to oneself that’s merely disguised as humor.

Perhaps we can understand this better by first understanding that the origin of the word “sarcasm” derives from Greek words that mean “tearing of the flesh.” So, when we describe someone as having a “biting” sense of humor, it refers to the “tearing of the flesh” that takes place when someone wants to hurt another person.

Let’s take a look at this in terms of a real-world example. Now, this example comes directly from a friend of mine, and I was granted his permission to use it for this article (no names need be mentioned). Here’s what took place between husband and wife.

The couple was about to go to Disneyland, and the wife asked if the husband knew the right roads to take. The man said he did, as he remembered the route from the last time he was there.

After a few wrong turns and some confusing road restrictions due to construction, the couple found themselves off track and somewhat lost. The husband then said, “I thought I knew the right way, but somewhere we made a wrong turn.” The wife, and here is the sarcasm part, then said in a mocking tone, “Wow, I always knew you had a great sense of direction.”

Now, at first glance, you may not think this is a big deal. But it is a big deal, and I will tell you why.

The husband had admitted that he was wrong about the route and made a mistake (a quite common one at that). Yet, rather than try to help the situation by using the GPS on her phone to find a new route or to tell him that it was going to be ok, the wife took the opportunity to tear at the flesh by insulting the man’s acumen at navigating life.

I wonder how many other not-so-subtle sarcastic remarks this woman has made to this man over the years, remarks that have eroded their love and friendship little by little, like a leaky pipe that allows water to slowly seep into the walls, building up mold until the levels become toxic. Indeed, the fact that my friend told me about this episode when I asked him how things were going tells you right there that this is not just some harmless form of kidding.

Yet, for those who wear their sarcasm as a badge of honor, or who hoist their sarcasm flag up the pole as some sort of virtue to the world, they can always just hide behind the bromide, “I was only kidding” when they’re challenged on their behavior.

Most of the time, however, the sarcastic person claiming they were only kidding is the one who is kidding themselves. The truth is that kidding with the intent to tear the flesh is hurtful, petty, cowardly and passive aggressive. I say “cowardly,” because if the sarcastic person had any guts, they would just come right out and tell the other person what they think is the problem.

To this I say, don’t abide sarcasm — not in others, and especially not in yourself.

Like nearly everyone, I have been guilty of this fault many times. Yet, every time I’ve reflected on my bouts of sarcasm, I’ve become a little less valorous in my own eyes.

If, after your own reflection, you find that your personality tends toward sarcasm, ask yourself why. What are you trying to convey to others or the world? If you are trying to show the world you have an intelligent sense of humor, then perhaps you can do so in another fashion, one that is humorous but isn’t carried out by tearing at another’s flesh.

Of course, if you just want the world to think you are a witty jerk, then that’s probably what the world thinks of you anyway. And hey, good luck with that.

Finally, remember that sarcasm is intended to be a little dig on another. And when it comes to relationships, repeated little digs will inevitably become big holes.


ETF Talk: Focusin’ On a Yield-Centered Russell 1000 Fund

If you’ve been a reader of The Deep Woods for any length of time, you know about my ethos: focus, integration and celebration — and that I devote myself to those values in every sphere of my life, including investing. Thus, I am always interested in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that are as devoted to their slice of the investing universe as I am.

Specifically, the SPDR Russell 1000 Yield Focus ETF (NYSEARCA: ONEY) is an ETF that, like its siblings SPDR Russell 1000 Low Volatility Focus ETF (NYSEARCA: ONEV) and SPDR Russell 1000 Momentum Focus ETF (NYSEARCA: ONEO), is devoted to sorting, selecting and weighting the large-cap stocks in the Russell 1000 Index by three “core” characteristics (value, quality and small size) and a “focus” factor — yield — scaled by market capitalization, of course. Then, companies whose weights do not make the cut are removed from the index.

As a result of this, ONEY’s portfolio looks like the wider market, but with a slant towards the core and focus criteria used by the fund’s managers and towards mid-cap companies.

While some may question the wisdom of relying on the Russell 1000, as the index has declined by 6% since late July, that decline has largely been caused by rising bond yields. While this, in turn, will likely remain true due to the Fed’s recent “higher-for-longer” stance regarding interest rates, this is not the case for all stocks in the index. Some, especially those linked to the AI revolution, are doing quite well. In addition, while the dawn of interest rate cuts has been pushed back, it will come in time. This will cause bond yields to fall and growth stocks to, hopefully, resume their upward trajectory.

Top holdings in this portfolio include Pioneer Natural Resources Company (NYSE: PXD), Devon Energy Corporation (NYSE: DVN), Dow Inc. (NYSE: DOW), Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE: VLO), Diamondback Energy, Inc. (NASDAQ: FANG), 3M Company (NYSE: MMM) and LyondellBasell Industries NV (NYSE: LYB).

This fund is down 3.47% over the past month, down 1.38% over the past three months and down 0.65% year to date. The fund has $735.62 million in assets under management, and it has an expense ratio of 0.20%.

Chart courtesy of

While this fund does provide an access point into the world of dividend-yielding mid-cap stocks, such an ETF may not be suitable for all investors. Investors should always do their due diligence before adding any stock, ETF or fund to their portfolio to make sure it is the best choice for his or her investing strategy.

As always, I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You may just see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.


In case you missed it…

On Focus, Integration, Celebration

A few years ago, a friend asked me to describe my personal “ethos” with just a few words.

Now, judging by that question, you can tell that I hang out with some pretty smart friends. And in this case, I knew my answer needed to be appropriately thought out to satisfy my friend’s curiosity. At first, I thought this task would be difficult. Yet, after just a brief period of reflection, I answered with the following three words…

Focus. Integration. Celebration.

Naturally, my friend demanded I amplify this answer, and so I went about explaining these “three pillars” of my personal ethos so that each concept would be simple and easy to understand. So, with your permission, I would like to do the same here.

Focus. The first pillar here is the most essential, as it also serves as a basis for all information processing, and for the application of the two other pillars of my ethos. The term focus here means much more than just concentration. By focus, I mean focus in the wider, philosophic sense. Perhaps a quote here from my favorite philosopher and my favorite novelist, Ayn Rand, will explain what I mean by philosophic focus:

“In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality — or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.”

So, when I say “focus” is the first pillar of my personal ethos, I mean it in this sense. I mean it in the sense that whatever it is I am doing, whether it is writing, speaking, analyzing companies, reading, composing and playing music, horseback riding, weight training, martial arts, combat marksmanship, driving a race car, walking a dog or just petting my cat, I do it in a state of full focus. I do it with the full, volitional and conscious awareness of reality — in the moment.

You’ve no doubt heard about the importance of “living in the moment,” as it has become somewhat of a cliché in the self-help movement. So, let’s avoid this cliché, and just say that living in the moment requires that you live each moment in full focus.

Integration. The second pillar of my ethos comes after you’ve focused your mind on the facts and sensations of reality. Through the process of mental integration, you can categorize the facts, sensations and feelings you’ve experienced in that state of full focus, and you can begin determining what they all mean and how they fit into your broader, and deeper, philosophic premises such as the things you value.

For example, let’s say you focus your mind on something that is on the surface mostly a physical pursuit: weight training. Yet, is it mostly a physical thing? While the actual performance of the movements might be primarily physical, what you’ve likely already integrated before you even decide to begin weight training are the facts that challenging your muscles with progressive resistance loads is a good thing for your physical well-being.

Indeed, the integration of higher-order concepts of “well-being” requires a long chain of philosophic integration that has to do with the value you place on your existence, your health, your appearance, the maintenance of your functional ability, etc. The wider point here is that the ability to focus on facts and integrate those facts into your philosophic matrix is the necessary second pillar of a rational ethos, and it’s one you must be consciously aware of, if you are going to engage in the third pillar of this ethos.

Your editor celebrating life black-tie style with artist Michael Newberry (far left) and philosopher Stephen Hicks (middle) at the Atlas Society Gala, 2021.

Celebration. Once you’ve focused on reality and integrated those facts with your personal worldview, i.e., your personal philosophic premises, then, and only then, can you rationally indulge in the most pleasurable pillar — celebration. For me, celebration is the result of the focused integration of the concretes of reality and what they represent in my life. Staying with the weight training example, I know that a focus on facts means I need to weight train to stay in good physical shape.

Staying in good physical shape is a value to me because I’ve integrated the virtue of good health and the absence of disease in my life as rational values for me to pursue. And despite being on the losing side of my fifties, I am for the most part in excellent physical condition, largely free of disease, strong, flexible and fully functional. It is this combination of focused integration that permits me to celebrate this circumstance.

You see, when you live a life in full focus, and one in which you integrate the ideas and values that really matter to you, then, and only then, can you rationally celebrate your existence. It is this celebration, in all its glorious forms, that makes life worth living.

Whether that celebration is the pleasure of watching your children grow up, or whether it’s staring into the eyes of the person you love most and feeling that love come right back to you or whether it’s something as simple as performing a set of intense barbell curls — when you live a life of focused integration, you can justly celebrate life in all of its forms.

For me, the three pillars of focus, integration and celebration comprise the basis of my personal ethos. And thanks to my friend’s question some years ago, these three pillars also represent the consistent themes running through my lifestyle website and podcast, “Way of the Renaissance Man.”

If you want to hear more about the various ways I and others focus, integrate and celebrate life, I invite you to check out the articles, interviews and podcasts available right now at


Dragon Wisdom

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”

–Bruce Lee

The concept of “wasting time” is a pet peeve of mine, and it’s become especially so the more trips around the sun I take. Think about it. The older you get, the closer you are to no longer being. And if you value the only life that we know we have, why would you waste a single minute of it?

Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.

In the name of the best within us,

Jim Woods

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