“A surplus of discipline”

MandelaColumnist and former executive editor of The New York Times Bill Keller, who wrote Nelson Mandela’s obituary for the paper last week, was asked by George Stephanopoulos yesterday on ABC’s This Week how Mandela was able to appear so free of hatred. As noted in the obituary, Mandela believed that “leaders cannot afford to hate” because “hating clouds the mind.” Keller offered an intriguing and insightful answer, based upon a good deal of interaction with Mandela. “That’s not an absence of hate on his part — it’s a surplus of discipline.”

We would be wise to apply this idea to our investment processes (I write this at some risk of trivializing the life and work of Mr. Mandela). We’d all like to make our investment processes immune to the emotional overreactions to which we are all prone. Fear, greed and ego are dangerous taskmasters. But it’s unrealistic to expect that we can somehow turn ourselves into emotionless automatons (and perhaps less than ideal too). The best we can do is to recognize our overly emotional tendencies, to create a disciplined and systematic process, and to follow that process consistently so as to make one’s investment decisions as carefully reasoned and data-driven as possible.

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