More Ugly ‘Tearing of the Flesh’

By Jim Woods

Well, it happened again. Over the weekend, I witnessed more of the ugly personality trait that I find subversively vexing, caustic and very revealing. That behavior is sarcasm, and it’s a hostile trait that should be avoided in others and in ourselves. The presence of sarcasm, especially between life partners, is especially irritating to me, as it leads to nothing good.

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.

I explored my feelings about this issue about eight months ago in The Deep Woods, but I feel so strongly about its pernicious social and personal effect I have decided here to tell you all about it once again, as the example I witnessed this weekend (details shall remain unrevealed to protect the guilty) brought my original thoughts to the front of mind.

To understand my antipathy to sarcasm, we must first better understand the origin of the word. You see, sarcasm is derived 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. 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 help navigate 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 one that 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: A Growing Opportunity for Small-Caps

For the past two weeks, we’ve been discussing exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that focus exclusively on small-cap stocks. While high interest rates have caused small caps to underperform as of late, the likelihood of the Fed lowering interest rates later this year, combined with small caps selling cheaply on a price-to-earnings (P/E) basis, means that small caps could have a lot to gain.

This rings especially true for growth stocks, as these are stocks that are already generating earnings far faster than their peers. When combined with a small-cap sector that’s poised for growth, it creates a potentially golden investment opportunity. And possibly no ETF capitalizes on it better than the iShares Morningstar Small-Cap Growth ETF (ISCG).

Opened in 2004 by BlackRock, Inc., ISCG tracks a market-cap-weighted index of U.S.-based small-cap growth stocks. ISCG’s index divides the market into three parts — growth, blend and value — and assigns roughly one-third of the market to each. Stocks are classified as “growth” companies based on earnings, cash flow and other valuation metrics. The fund then selects companies from the “growth” assignment that have market capitalization from 90-99.5% for its portfolio.

ISCG’s top 10 holdings are MicroStrategy Incorporated Class A (MSTR), Natera, Inc. (NTRA), Shockwave Medical Inc. (SWAV), Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc. (WMS), Sarepta Therapeutics, Inc. (SRPT), Tetra Tech, Inc. (TTEK), Texas Roadhouse, Inc. (TXRH), Comfort Systems USA, Inc. (FIX), Onto Innovation, Inc. (ONTO) and Wingstop, Inc. (WING). All its holdings are U.S. stocks.

Currently, the fund has an expense ratio of 0.06%, and roughly $559 million in assets under management. The fund has a wide variety of holdings across various industries, including finance, technology, manufacturing and consumer and industrial services.

As of May 20, the trust is up 7.67% in the past month, 4.03% in the past three months and 5.04% year to date.

However, while ISCG has potential, it might not be the gold mine that’s right for you. You should always consider your investment goals and do your due diligence before adding any stock or exchange-traded fund to your portfolio.

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

In case you missed it…

Sir, How Do I Get One of Those?

I pulled up to my local Starbucks the other day in my not-so-subtle, python green Porsche 911 twin-turbo cabriolet. Admittedly, this car attracts a lot of attention, sometimes wanted and sometimes unwanted (think Highway Patrol here). Out front of the Starbucks, there was a cluster of teenage males who had paused their conversation to ogle at the iconic German sportscar.

As I exited the vehicle, the teens trained their collective gazes on me in an obvious attempt to assess the status of the owner (I know I would do the same). As I got closer to the entrance of the Starbucks, and closer to the teens, one of them initiated conversation by asking the following provocative question: “Sir, how do I get one of those?”

This rather bold, refreshingly honest and direct question was impressive to me, so I paused for a moment before I gave the youth the bold, direct and thoughtful response I thought his question deserved. My response was…


The pithy retort left the teens speechless; however, by the expressions on their faces I detected their collective contemplation of my reply. Indeed, that was my intent, because I wanted them to think deeply about what is at the core of achievement. In this case, “achievement” came in the form of an iconic sports car, but achievement comes in all shapes and sizes and through myriad material and non-material values that enhance our lives.

And true to The Deep Woods ethic of always thinking a few layers below the surface, I wanted these kids to start thinking about the root of achievement, and not merely the price of a car.

This incident reminded me of another question I received a few years ago from a friend who asked me to describe my personal “ethos” using just a few key words.

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 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.

Your editor with his python green Porsche 911 cabriolet alongside friend and Porsche brand ambassador 
Tony Nguyen.

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.

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, staring into the eyes of the person you love most and feeling that love come right back to you or 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, 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


A Conversation with 15-Year-Old You

I know I’m not
Everything that you had hoped and imagined that I would be
But I did my best
And I have seen things that you don’t even know that you’ve never seen
We need to find some common ground
In the ruins that still stand
Between you and me, both of us want peace… Ceasefire!

–Frank Turner, “Ceasefire

What if you could have a conversation with 15-year-old you? What would that youthful persona think of adult you? Would he be pleased with how you turned out? Or would the two of you be at war? This is the question that singer/songwriter Frank Turner grapples with in his newly released song “Ceasefire,” which is from the brilliant new album, “Undefeated.”

I absolutely love this new record, as it displays Turner’s depth of thought, artful use of language (both musical and lyrical), and his characteristic high-intensity delivery that comes through even during the quiet songs. If you want to treat yourself to a beautifully thoughtful and rousing musical experience, I highly recommend “Undefeated.”

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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