This morning, as I was waiting for a book to download from Audible, I decided to revisit a classic that I had downloaded and listened to ten years ago. So inspiring was this book then, that I had purposed to listen to it yearly but somehow forgot. Today I was reminded that it was one of those golden books that must be savored slowly. The book is called How to Win Friends and Influence Others written by Dale Carnegie, first published in 1936. His purpose was to help engineers in their social skills. Now if you know an engineer you are most likely smiling at this point.
The first chapter is called “If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive.” Don’t you love that title? The chapter deals with criticism, condemning and complaining and what that does to the lives around you. “Criticisms are like homing pidgeons, they always find their way home.”
One reason I especially like this book is because Mr. Carnegie sites many stories from the great corridors of history. My favorite in this chapter was about Abraham Lincoln who we all know was extremely successful in dealing with men. It surprised me to hear that as a young man in Indiana this wonderful man indulged in criticism. He not only criticized but he wrote letters and poems ridiculing people. In 1842 he was challenged to a duel by an Irish politician named James Shields over an anonymous letter published in the paper in which Lincoln had literally lampooned him. This incident in Lincoln’s life taught him something important about dealing with people. His lesson wan invaluable and molded his character. He never again wrote insulting letters and he almost never criticized anybody for anything ever again.
Case in point – at Gettysburg when General Meade defied his direct order to not hold a council of war but to attack Lee immediately which would have surely won the war that day. Lincoln was furious and sat down and wrote Meade a letter expressing his displeasure. This letter in no way resembled the critical letters of his youth. His words were restrained and conservative and carefully chosen. But the most amazing thing of all was that Lincoln never mailed the letter. Meade never saw it. He knew it would only arouse hard feelings and maybe even cause Meade to resign which Lincoln did not want.
Lincoln had learned what I hope to learn – ‘sharp criticisms and rebukes almost invariably end in futility.’