Mandela Lessons for Traders

Boris Schlossberg

The last few hours have seen an unprecedented outpouring of support and mourning over the death of Nelson Mandela. There is no doubt that he will go down as one of the seminal figures in history, a man who – as one analyst said – embodied the idea that you must become the change that you seek. However since our weekly focus is the filthy lucre of the markets I would like to leave the soaring rhetoric to others and concentrate instead on the more pragmatic aspects of Mandela’s nature.

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Almost every story about Mandela talks about his amazing ability to forgive the white minority of South Africa for the horrors of apartheid rule. And that indeed is one of the greatest historical examples of human graciousness that all of us should admire and appreciate. However, beneath the supremely moral nature of Mandela’s actions I believe there lurks a pragmatic impulse that is even more impressive.

Mandela understood very well that the white minority of South Africa was absolutely essential to the future success of the country. He understood with crystal clear precision that there could be no freedom without prosperity, no freedom without peace and no freedom without collaboration. In short Mandela, more than any other late twentieth century leader kept his eye on the prize and never allowed personal grievances to get in the way of the greater goal.

Think about that as he endured the brutal incarceration on a bone chilling speck of an island, cut off from society for 26 years, performing the mindless back breaking work of splintering rocks into two.

It is not only that our day to day grievances of missed trades, crooked dealers, and capricious markets all pale in comparison to the hardships endured by the man. It is perhaps the much greater lesson that despite all the obstacles, despite all the challenges, despite all the years of struggle and humiliation Mandela never lost sight of how to win.

Not only did he never give up, but he never allowed to corrosive, corruptive maddeningly frustrating environment around him, to influence his actions or to lose his discipline. He stayed true to his goals and that is perhaps his greatest legacy of all.