“What should they know of England who only England know?” — Rudyard Kipling
Venetian-born merchant Marco Polo joined his family on their journey to China in 1271, and it was another 23 years before they returned. It was a long trip that impressed young Marco in a way that he would never forget. During his journey, he served as a personal aide to the mighty Kublai Khan, grandson of Mongol leader Genghis Khan. On his various missions, he noticed how differently the life existed there. He started recording his impressions of their culture and customs.
Years later, when he had already returned to Europe, Marco Polo was thrown into prison. There he met Rustichello da Pisa, a writer of Romantic fiction, who, after hearing his stories, released his adventures as a book as soon as he left prison. Il Milione — or The Travels of Marco Polo — inspired future generations of explorers and adventurers. Marco expanded his world and that of millions of other people by showing them that the world is bigger than we at first think. Two centuries after his death, when Christopher Columbus searched for new frontiers, he carried with him a copy of Il Milione.
Understanding the economy can seem a daunting undertaking. Although overly simplified, according to hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, the economy is a machine that is made up of parts and transactions that repeat and are driven by human nature. In our age of information abundance, it can be a full-time job just to read the news. We look at experts in awe, who use fancy language and complex statistics to explain what’s happening.
In reality, the economy is far more complex, yet understanding the economy doesn’t necessarily require an advanced degree. If you understand productivity growth and the short-term and long-term debt cycle, you can track the economic movements and figure out what is happening. You can quickly learn basic concepts such as supply and demand, which put in context can be a powerful way to explain the economy.
After I first learned about investing, I realized that I needed to figure out where the market was going. And to do that requires an understanding of the economy. However, I was overwhelmed by the onslaught of information and data and the myriad of different opinions about where the world was heading.
I began reading books by Hungarian-born investor André Kostolany and monitored how he learned. From talking to ordinary people and asking questions, he had a fuller grasp on the state of the world. A short conversation with your Uber driver may give you a better idea of who is going to win the election than listening to an Ivy League educated economist.
An excellent way to understand what is going on in the world is to understand it from the ground up. For example, living in a different location is the most literal way to expand your horizon. What do you know about others if you have only lived in one small part of Earth? Take any chance to change your geography. Inevitably, it will meaningfully expand your comfort zone.
I’m not advocating for spring break in Cancun and you don’t need to see Times Square. If you visit as a tourist, your understanding will remain superficial. You also don’t have to travel to another corner of the world to expand your horizon. Try vacationing in your own city. Simply appreciating cultural treasures in your local environment can make a world of difference.
In addition, when you live abroad and learn another language, it helps you to think in different ways. As Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein put it, “the limits of your language pose the limits of your world.” Every new door represents a new possibility to create a new future. You will recognize opportunities where others do not.
The definition of empathy is to understand the feelings of another. Each of us experience life through our personal lens. However, when we get caught up in ego, we isolate ourselves. Experiencing how others live gives a fresh perspective and can be done simply by listening. To actively listen with the intent to empathize with another requires us to pay full attention to the speaker. When you empathize with how someone else lives, you will discover nuances that will make you appreciate them far more.
Today, Scottish economist Adam Smith is best known for The Wealth of Nations — the tome that has served as the foundation for economists for centuries. What few know is that Smith also published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which provided the ethical and philosophical underpinnings for his later work. As he says in the latter, “In the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own.” Other philosophers such as English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes painted a darker view of human nature. In his Leviathan, he famously espoused that the life of man was, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” As with most things, the view you have towards something, reflects more on you than the thing.
If you want to understand yourself, it is important to let others be a part of your perspective. There will be times when you wander and you don’t know where you are going. You will learn new things and cherish the diversity that unfolds before you. It will redefine who you are and make you realize what matters. If we empathize with others, we start to grasp how it is that people share more commonalities than differences.
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