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How This Book Was Written—and Why
During the first thirty-five years of the twentieth century, the publishing houses of America printed more than a fifth of a million different books. Most of them were deadly dull, and many were financial failures. “Many,” did I say? The president of one of the largest publishing houses in the world confessed to me that his company, after seventy-five years of publishing experience, still lost money on seven out of every eight books it published.
Why, then, did I have the temerity to write another book? And, after I had written it, why should you bother to read it?
Fair questions, both; and I’ll try to answer them.
I have, since 1912, been conducting educational courses for business and professional men and women in New York. At first, I conducted courses in public speaking only—courses designed to train adults, by actual experience, to think on their feet and express their ideas with more clarity, more effectiveness and more poise, both in business interviews and before groups.
But gradually, as the seasons passed, I realized that as sorely as these adults needed training in effective speaking, they needed still more training in the fine art of getting along with people in everyday business and social contacts.
I also gradually realized that I was sorely in need of such training myself. As I look back across the years, I am appalled at my own frequent lack of finesse and understanding. How I wish a book such as this had been placed in my hands twenty years ago! What a priceless boon it would have been.
Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face, especially if you are in business. Yes, and that is also true if you are a housewife, architect or engineer. Research done a few years ago under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching uncovered a most important and significant fact—a fact later confirmed by additional studies made at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. These investigations revealed that even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering—to personality and the ability to lead people.
For many years, I conducted courses each season at the Engineers’ Club of Philadelphia, and also courses for the New York chapter of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. A total of probably more than fifteen hundred engineers have passed through my classes. They came to me because they had finally realized, after years of observation and experience, that the highest-paid personnel in engineering are frequently not those who know the most about engineering. One can, for example, hire mere technical ability in engineering, accountancy, architecture or any other profession at nominal salaries. But the person who has technical knowledge plus the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people—that person is headed for higher earning power.
In the heyday of his activity, John D. Rockefeller said that “the ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for that ability,” said John D., “than for any other under the sun.”
Wouldn’t you suppose that every college in the land would conduct courses to develop the highest-priced ability under the sun? But if there is just one practical, commonsense course of that kind given for adults in even one college in the land, it has escaped my attention up to the present writing.
The University of Chicago and the United Y.M.C.A. Schools conducted a survey to determine what adults want to study. That survey cost $25,000 and took two years. The last part of the survey was made in Meriden, Connecticut. It had been chosen as a typical American town. Every adult in Meriden was interviewed and requested to answer 156 questions—questions such as “What is your business or profession? Your education? How do you spend your spare time? What is your income? Your hobbies? Your ambitions? Your problems? What subjects are you most interested in studying?,” and so on. That survey revealed that health is the prime interest of adults—and that their second interest is people: how to understand and get along with people; how to make people like you; and how to win others to your way of thinking.
So the committee conducting this survey resolved to conduct such a course for adults in Meriden. They searched diligently for a practical textbook on the subject and found—not one. Finally they approached one of the world’s outstanding authorities on adult education and asked him if he knew of any book that met the needs of this group. “No,” he replied, “I know what those adults want. But the book they need has never been written.” I knew from experience that this statement was true, for I myself had been searching for years to discover a practical, working handbook on human relations.
Since no such book existed, I have tried to write one for use in my own courses. And here it is. I hope you like it.
In preparation for this book, I read everything that I could find on the subject—everything from newspaper columns, magazine articles, records of the family courts, the writings of the old philosophers and the new psychologists. In addition, I hired a trained researcher to spend one and a half years in various libraries reading everything I had missed, plowing through erudite tomes on psychology, poring over hundreds of magazine articles, searching through countless biographies, trying to ascertain how the great leaders of all ages had dealt with people. We read their biographies. We read the life stories of all great leaders from Julius Caesar to Thomas Edison. I recall that we read over one hundred biographies of Theodore Roosevelt alone. We were determined to spare no time, no expense, to discover every practical idea that anyone had ever used throughout the ages for winning friends and influencing people.
I personally interviewed scores of successful people, some of them world-famous—inventors like Marconi and Edison; political leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt and James Farley; business leaders like Owen D. Young; movie stars like Clark Gable and Mary Pickford; and explorers like Martin Johnson—and tried to discover the techniques they used in human relations.
From all this material, I prepared a short talk. I called it “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I say “short.” It was short in the beginning, but it soon expanded to a lecture that consumed one hour and thirty minutes. For years, I gave this talk each season to the adults in the Carnegie Institute courses in New York.
I gave the talk and urged the listeners to go out and test it in their business and social contacts, and then come back to class and speak about their experiences and the results they had achieved. What an interesting assignment! These men and women, hungry for self-improvement, were fascinated by the idea of working in a new kind of laboratory—the first and only laboratory of human relationships for adults that had ever existed.
This book wasn’t written in the usual sense of the word. It grew as a child grows. It grew and developed out of that laboratory, out of the experiences of thousands of adults.
Years ago, we started with a set of rules printed on a card no larger than a postcard. The next season we printed a larger card, then a leaflet, then a series of booklets, each one expanding in size and scope. After fifteen years of experiment and research came this book.
The rules we have set down here are not mere theories or guesswork. They work like magic. Incredible as it sounds, I have seen the application of these principles literally revolutionize the lives of many people.
To illustrate: A man with 314 employees joined one of these courses. For years, he had driven and criticized and condemned his employees without stint or discretion. Kindness, words of appreciation and encouragement were alien to his lips. After studying the principles discussed in this book, this employer sharply altered his philosophy of life. His organization is now inspired with a new loyalty, a new enthusiasm, a new spirit of teamwork. Three hundred and fourteen enemies have been turned into 314 friends. As he proudly said in a speech before the class: “When I used to walk through my establishment, no one greeted me. My employees actually looked the other way when they saw me approaching. But now they are all my friends and even the janitor calls me by my first name.” This employer gained more profit; more leisure and—what is infinitely more important—he found far more happiness in his business and in his home.
Countless numbers of salespeople have sharply increased their sales by the use of these principles. Many have opened up new accounts—accounts that they had formerly solicited in vain. Executives have been given increased authority, increased pay. One executive reported a large increase in salary because he applied these truths. Another, an executive in the Philadelphia Gas Works Company, was slated for demotion when he was sixty-five because of his belligerence, because of his inability to lead people skillfully. This training not only saved him from the demotion but brought him a promotion with increased pay.
On innumerable occasions, spouses attending the banquet given at the end of the course have told me that their homes have been much happier since their husbands or wives started this training.
People are frequently astonished at the new results they achieve. It all seems like magic. In some cases, in their enthusiasm, they have telephoned me at my home on Sundays because they couldn’t wait forty-eight hours to report their achievements at the regular session of the course.
One man was so stirred by a talk on these principles that he sat far into the night discussing them with other members of the class. At three o’clock in the morning, the others went home. But he was so shaken by a realization of his own mistakes, so inspired by the vista of a new and richer world opening before him, that he was unable to sleep. He didn’t sleep that night or the next day or the next night.
Who was he? A naïve, untrained individual ready to gush over any new theory that came along? No. Far from it. He was a sophisticated, blasé dealer in art, very much the man about town, who spoke three languages fluently and was a graduate of two European universities.
While writing this chapter, I received a letter from a German of the old school, an aristocrat whose forebears had served for generations as professional army officers under the Hohenzollerns. His letter, written from a transatlantic steamer, telling about the application of these principles, rose almost to a religious fervor.
Another man—an old New Yorker, a Harvard graduate, a wealthy man, the owner of a large carpet factory—declared he had learned more in fourteen weeks through this system of training about the fine art of influencing people than he had learned about the same subject during his four years in college. Absurd? Laughable? Fantastic? Of course, you are privileged to dismiss this statement with whatever adjective you wish. I am merely reporting, without comment, a declaration made by a conservative and eminently successful Harvard graduate in a public address to approximately six hundred people at the Yale Club in New York on the evening of Thursday, February 23, 1933.
“Compared to what we ought to be,” said the famous Professor William James of Harvard, “compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources. Stating the thing broadly, the human individual thus lives far within his limits. He possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use.” Those powers which you “habitually fail to use”! The sole purpose of this book is to help you discover, develop and profit by those dormant and unused assets.
“Education,” said Dr. John G. Hibben, former president of Princeton University, “is the ability to meet life’s situations.”
If by the time you have finished reading the first three chapters of this book—if you aren’t then a little better equipped to meet life’s situations, then I shall consider this book to be a total failure so far as you are concerned. For “the great aim of education,” said Herbert Spencer, “is not knowledge but action.” And this is an action book.
Dale Carnegie, 1936
Nine Suggestions on How to Get the Most Out of This Book
- If you wish to get the most out of this book, there is one indispensable requirement, one essential infinitely more important than any rule or technique. Unless you have this one fundamental requisite, a thousand rules on how to study will avail little. And if you do have this cardinal endowment, then you can achieve wonders without reading any suggestions for getting the most out of a book.
What is this magic requirement? Just this: a deep, driving desire to learn, a vigorous determination to increase your ability to deal with people.
How can you develop such an urge? By constantly reminding yourself how important these principles are to you. Picture to yourself how their mastery will aid you in leading a richer, fuller, happier and more fulfilling life. Say to yourself over and over: “My popularity, my happiness and sense of worth depend to no small extent upon my skill in dealing with people.” 2. Read each chapter rapidly at first to get a bird’s-eye view of it. You will probably be tempted then to rush on to the next one. But don’t—unless you are reading merely for entertainment. But if you are reading because you want to increase your skill in human relations, then go back and reread each chapter thoroughly. In the long run, this will mean saving time and getting results.
Stop frequently in your reading to think over what you are reading. Ask yourself just how and when you can apply each suggestion.
Read with a crayon, pencil, pen, magic marker or highlighter in your hand. When you come across a suggestion that you feel you can use, draw a line beside it. If it is a four-star suggestion, then underscore every sentence or highlight it, or mark it with “**.” Marking and underscoring a book makes it more interesting and far easier to review rapidly.
I knew a woman who had been office manager for a large insurance concern for fifteen years. Every month, she read all the insurance contracts her company had issued that month. Yes, she read many of the same contracts over month after month, year after year. Why? Because experience had taught her that that was the only way she could keep their provisions clearly in mind.
I once spent almost two years writing a book on public speaking and yet I found I had to keep going back over it from time to time in order to remember what I had written in my own book. The rapidity with which we forget is astonishing.
So, if you want to get a real, lasting benefit out of this book, don’t imagine that skimming through it once will suffice. After reading it thoroughly, you ought to spend a few hours reviewing it every month. Keep it on your desk in front of you every day. Glance through it often. Keep constantly impressing yourself with the rich possibilities for improvement that still lie in the offing. Remember that the use of these principles can be made habitual only by a constant and vigorous campaign of review and application. There is no other way.
- Bernard Shaw once remarked: “If you teach a man anything, he will never learn.” Shaw was right. Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. So, if you desire to master the principles you are studying in this book, do something about them. Apply these rules at every opportunity. If you don’t you will forget them quickly. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind.
You will probably find it difficult to apply these suggestions all the time. I know because I wrote the book, and yet frequently I found it difficult to apply everything I advocated. For example, when you are displeased, it is much easier to criticize and condemn than it is to try to understand the other person’s viewpoint; it is frequently easier to find fault than to find praise; it is more natural to talk about what you want than to talk about what the other person wants; and so on. So, as you read this book, remember that you are not merely trying to acquire information. You are attempting to form new habits. Ah yes, you are attempting a new way of life. That will require time and persistence and daily application.
So refer to these pages often. Regard this as a working handbook on human relations; and whenever you are confronted with some specific problem—such as handling a child, winning your spouse to your way of thinking, or satisfying an irritated customer—hesitate about doing the natural thing, the impulsive thing. This is usually wrong. Instead, turn to these pages and review the paragraphs you have underscored. Then try these new ways and watch them achieve magic for you.
Offer your spouse, your child or some business associate a dime or a dollar every time he or she catches you violating a certain principle. Make a lively game out of mastering these rules.
The president of an important Wall Street bank once described, in a talk before one of my classes, a highly efficient system he used for self-improvement. This man had little formal schooling; yet he had become one of the most important financiers in America, and he confessed that he owed most of his success to the constant application of his homemade system. This is what he does. I’ll put it in his own words as accurately as I can remember.
“For years I have kept an engagement book showing all the appointments I had during the day. My family never made any plans for me on Saturday night, for the family knew that I devoted a part of each Saturday evening to the illuminating process of self-examination and review and appraisal. After dinner I went off by myself, opened my engagement book, and thought over all the interviews, discussions and meetings that had taken place during the week. I asked myself: “‘What mistakes did I make that time?’
“‘What did I do that was right—and in what way could I have improved my performance?’
“‘What lessons can I learn from that experience?’
“I often found that this weekly review made me very unhappy. I was frequently astonished at my own blunders. Of course, as the years passed, these blunders became less frequent. Sometimes I was inclined to pat myself on the back a little after one of these sessions. This system of self-analysis, self-education, continued year after year, did more for me than any other one thing I have ever attempted.
“It helped me improve my ability to make decisions—and it aided me enormously in all my contacts with people. I cannot recommend it too highly.”
Why not use a similar system to check up on your application of the principles discussed in this book? If you do, two things will result.
First, you will find yourself engaged in an educational process that is both intriguing and priceless.
Second, you will find that your ability to meet and deal with people will grow enormously.
- You will find at the end of this book blank pages on which you should record your triumphs in the application of these principles. Be specific. Give names, dates, results. Keeping such a record will inspire you to greater efforts; and how fascinating these entries will be when you chance upon them some evening years from now!
IN ORDER TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THIS BOOK:
a. Develop a deep, driving desire to master the principles of human relations.
b. Read each chapter twice before going on to the next one.
c. As you read, stop frequently to ask yourself how you can apply each suggestion.
d. Underscore each important idea.
e. Review this book each month.
f. Apply these principles at every opportunity. Use this volume as a working handbook to help you solve your daily problems.
g. Make a lively game out of your learning by offering some friend a dime or a dollar every time he or she catches you violating one of these principles.
h. Check up each week on the progress you are making. Ask yourself what mistakes you have made, what improvement, what lessons you have learned for the future.
i. Keep notes in the back of this book showing how and when you have applied these principles.
Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
1 “If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive”
On May 7, 1931, the most sensational manhunt New York City had ever known had come to its climax. After weeks of search, “Two Gun” Crowley—the killer, the gunman who didn’t smoke or drink—was at bay, trapped in his sweetheart’s apartment on West End Avenue.
One hundred and fifty policemen and detectives laid siege to his top-floor hideaway. They chopped holes in the roof; they tried to smoke out Crowley, the “cop killer,” with tear gas. Then they mounted their machine guns on surrounding buildings, and for more than an hour one of New York’s fine residential areas reverberated with the crack of pistol fire and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns. Crowley, crouching behind an overstuffed chair, fired incessantly at the police. Ten thousand excited people watched the battle. Nothing like it had ever been seen before on the sidewalks of New York.
When Crowley was captured, Police Commissioner E. P. Mulrooney declared that the two-gun desperado was one of the most dangerous criminals ever encountered in the history of New York. “He will kill,” said the Commissioner, “at the drop of a feather.” But how did “Two Gun” Crowley regard himself? We know, because while the police were firing into his apartment, he wrote a letter addressed “To whom it may concern.” And, as he wrote, the blood flowing from his wounds left a crimson trail on the paper. In his letter Crowley said: “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one—one that would do nobody any harm.” A short time before this, Crowley had been having a necking party with his girl friend on a country road out on Long Island. Suddenly a policeman walked up to the car and said: “Let me see your license.”
Without saying a word, Crowley drew his gun and cut the policeman down with a shower of lead. As the dying officer fell, Crowley leaped out of the car, grabbed the officer’s revolver, and fired another bullet into the prostrate body. And that was the killer who said: “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one—one that would do nobody any harm.” Crowley was sentenced to the electric chair. When he arrived at the death house in Sing Sing, did he say, “This is what I get for killing people”? No, he said: “This is what I get for defending myself.”
The point of the story is this: “Two Gun” Crowley didn’t blame himself for anything.
Is that an unusual attitude among criminals? If you think so, listen to this:
“I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”
That’s Al Capone speaking. Yes, America’s most notorious Public Enemy—the most sinister gang leader who ever shot up Chicago. Capone didn’t condemn himself. He actually regarded himself as a public benefactor—an unappreciated and misunderstood public benefactor.
And so did Dutch Schultz before he crumpled up under gangster bullets in Newark. Dutch Schultz, one of New York’s most notorious rats, said in a newspaper interview that he was a public benefactor. And he believed it.
I have had some interesting correspondence with Lewis Lawes, who was warden of New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison for many years, on this subject, and he declared that “few of the criminals in Sing Sing regard themselves as bad men. They are just as human as you and I. So they rationalize, they explain. They can tell you why they had to crack a safe or be quick on the trigger finger. Most of them attempt by a form of reasoning, fallacious or logical, to justify their antisocial acts even to themselves, consequently stoutly maintaining that they should never have been imprisoned at all.” If Al Capone, “Two Gun” Crowley, Dutch Schultz, and the desperate men and women behind prison walls don’t blame themselves for anything—what about the people with whom you and I come in contact?
John Wanamaker, founder of the stores that bear his name, once confessed: “I learned thirty years ago that it is foolish to scold. I have enough trouble overcoming my own limitations without fretting over the fact that God has not seen fit to distribute evenly the gift of intelligence.” Wanamaker learned this lesson early, but I personally had to blunder through this old world for a third of a century before it even began to dawn upon me that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong it may be.
Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.
B. F. Skinner, the world-famous psychologist, proved through his experiments that an animal rewarded for good behavior will learn much more rapidly and retain what it learns far more effectively than an animal punished for bad behavior. Later studies have shown that the same applies to humans. By criticizing, we do not make lasting changes and often incur resentment.
Hans Selye, another great psychologist, said, “As much as we thirst for approval, we dread condemnation.”
The resentment that criticism engenders can demoralize employees, family members and friends, and still not correct the situation that has been condemned.
George B. Johnston of Enid, Oklahoma, is the safety coordinator for an engineering company. One of his responsibilities is to see that employees wear their hard hats whenever they are on the job in the field. He reported that whenever he came across workers who were not wearing hard hats, he would tell them with a lot of authority of the regulation and that they must comply. As a result he would get sullen acceptance, and often after he left, the workers would remove the hats.
He decided to try a different approach. The next time he found some of the workers not wearing their hard hat, he asked if the hats were uncomfortable or did not fit properly. Then he reminded the men in a pleasant tone of voice that the hat was designed to protect them from injury and suggested that it always be worn on the job. The result was increased compliance with the regulation with no resentment or emotional upset.
You will find examples of the futility of criticism bristling on a thousand pages of history. Take, for example, the famous quarrel between Theodore Roosevelt and President Taft—a quarrel that split the Republican party, put Woodrow Wilson in the White House, and wrote bold, luminous lines across the First World War and altered the flow of history. Let’s review the facts quickly. When Theodore Roosevelt stepped out of the White House in 1908, he supported Taft, who was elected President. Then Theodore Roosevelt went off to Africa to shoot lions. When he returned, he exploded. He denounced Taft for his conservatism, tried to secure the nomination for a third term himself, formed the Bull Moose party, and all but demolished the G.O.P. In the election that followed, William Howard Taft and the Republican party carried only two states—Vermont and Utah. The most disastrous defeat the party had ever known.
Theodore Roosevelt blamed Taft, but did President Taft blame himself? Of course not. With tears in his eyes, Taft said: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”
Who was to blame? Roosevelt or Taft? Frankly, I don’t know, and I don’t care. The point I am trying to make is that all of Theodore Roosevelt’s criticism didn’t persuade Taft that he was wrong. It merely made Taft strive to justify himself and to reiterate with tears in his eyes: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.” Or, take the Teapot Dome oil scandal. It kept the newspapers ringing with indignation in the early 1920s. It rocked the nation! Within the memory of living men, nothing like it had ever happened before in American public life. Here are the bare facts of the scandal: Albert B. Fall, secretary of the interior in Harding’s cabinet, was entrusted with the leasing of government oil reserves at Elk Hill and Teapot Dome—oil reserves that had been set aside for the future use of the Navy. Did Secretary Fall permit competitive bidding? No sir. He handed the fat, juicy contract outright to his friend Edward L. Doheny. And what did Doheny do? He gave Secretary Fall what he was pleased to call a “loan” of one hundred thousand dollars. Then, in a high-handed manner, Secretary Fall ordered United States Marines into the district to drive off competitors whose adjacent wells were sapping oil out of the Elk Hill reserves. These competitors, driven off their ground at the ends of guns and bayonets, rushed into court—and blew the lid off the Teapot Dome scandal. A stench arose so vile that it ruined the Harding Administration, nauseated an entire nation, threatened to wreck the Republican party, and put Albert B. Fall behind prison bars.
Fall was condemned viciously—condemned as few men in public life have ever been. Did he repent? Never! Years later Herbert Hoover intimated in a public speech that President Harding’s death had been due to mental anxiety and worry because a friend had betrayed him. When Mrs. Fall heard that, she sprang from her chair, she wept, she shook her fists at fate and screamed: “What! Harding betrayed by Fall? No! My husband never betrayed anyone. This whole house full of gold would not tempt my husband to do wrong. He is the one who has been betrayed and led to the slaughter and crucified.” images
There you are; human nature in action, wrongdoers, blaming everybody but themselves. We are all like that. So when you and I are tempted to criticize someone tomorrow, let’s remember Al Capone, “Two Gun” Crowley and Albert Fall. Let’s realize that criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home. Let’s realize that the person we are going to correct and condemn will probably justify himself or herself, and condemn us in return; or, like the gentle Taft, will say: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.” On the morning of April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln lay dying in a hall bedroom of a cheap lodging house directly across the street from Ford’s Theater, where John Wilkes Booth had shot him. Lincoln’s long body lay stretched diagonally across a sagging bed that was too short for him. A cheap reproduction of Rosa Bonheur’s famous painting The Horse Fair hung above the bed, and a dismal gas jet flickered yellow light.
As Lincoln lay dying, Secretary of War Stanton said, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men that the world has ever seen.”
What was the secret of Lincoln’s success in dealing with people? I studied the life of Abraham Lincoln for ten years and devoted all of three years to writing and rewriting a book entitled Lincoln the Unknown. I believe I have made as detailed and exhaustive a study of Lincoln’s personality and home life as it is possible for any being to make. I made a special study of Lincoln’s method of dealing with people. Did he indulge in criticism? Oh, yes. As a young man in the Pigeon Creek Valley of Indiana, he not only criticized but he wrote letters and poems ridiculing people and dropped these letters on the country roads where they were sure to be found. One of these letters aroused resentments that burned for a lifetime.
Even after Lincoln had become a practicing lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he attacked his opponents openly in letters published in the newspapers. But he did this just once too often.
In the autumn of 1842 he ridiculed a vain, pugnacious politician by the name of James Shields. Lincoln lampooned him through an anonymous letter published in the Springfield Journal. The town roared with laughter. Shields, sensitive and proud, boiled with indignation. He found out who wrote the letter, leaped on his horse, started after Lincoln, and challenged him to fight a duel. Lincoln didn’t want to fight. He was opposed to dueling, but he couldn’t get out of it and save his honor. He was given the choice of weapons. Since he had very long arms, he chose cavalry broadswords and took lessons in sword fighting from a West Point graduate; and, on the appointed day, he and Shields met on a sandbar in the Mississippi River, prepared to fight to the death; but, at the last minute, their seconds interrupted and stopped the duel.
That was the most lurid personal incident in Lincoln’s life. It taught him an invaluable lesson in the art of dealing with people. Never again did he write an insulting letter. Never again did he ridicule anyone. And from that time on, he almost never criticized anybody for anything.
Time after time, during the Civil War, Lincoln put a new general at the head of the Army of the Potomac, and each one in turn—McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, Meade—blundered tragically and drove Lincoln to pacing the floor in despair. Half the nation savagely condemned these incompetent generals, but Lincoln, “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” held his peace. One of his favorite quotations was “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” And when Mrs. Lincoln and others spoke harshly of the southern people, Lincoln replied: “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”
Yet if any man ever had occasion to criticize, surely it was Lincoln. Let’s take just one illustration:
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought during the first three days of July 1863. During the night of July 4, Lee began to retreat southward while storm clouds deluged the country with rain. When Lee reached the Potomac with his defeated army, he found a swollen, impassable river in front of him, and a victorious Union Army behind him. Lee was in a trap. He couldn’t escape. Lincoln saw that. Here was a golden, heaven-sent opportunity—the opportunity to capture Lee’s army and end the war immediately. So, with a surge of high hope, Lincoln ordered Meade not to call a council of war but to attack Lee immediately. Lincoln telegraphed his orders and then sent a special messenger to Meade demanding immediate action.
And what did General Meade do? He did the very opposite of what he was told to do. He called a council of war in direct violation of Lincoln’s orders. He hesitated. He procrastinated. He telegraphed all manner of excuses. He refused point-blank to attack Lee. Finally the waters receded and Lee escaped over the Potomac with his forces.
Lincoln was furious. “What does this mean?” Lincoln cried to his son Robert. “Great God! What does this mean? We had them within our grasp, and had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours; yet nothing that I could say or do could make the army move. Under the circumstances, almost any general could have defeated Lee. If I had gone up there, I could have whipped him myself.” In bitter disappointment, Lincoln sat down and wrote Meade this letter. And remember, at this period of his life Lincoln was extremely conservative and restrained in his phraseology. So this letter coming from Lincoln in 1863 was tantamount to the severest rebuke.
My dear General,
I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within our easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so south of the river, when you can take with you very few—no more than two-thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect and I do not expect that you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.
What do you suppose Meade did when he read the letter?
Meade never saw that letter. Lincoln never mailed it. It was found among his papers after his death.
My guess is—and this is only a guess—that after writing that letter, Lincoln looked out of the window and said to himself, “Just a minute. Maybe I ought not to be so hasty. It is easy enough for me to sit here in the quiet of the White House and order Meade to attack; but if I had been up at Gettysburg, and if I had seen as much blood as Meade has seen during the last week, and if my ears had been pierced with the screams and shrieks of the wounded and dying, maybe I wouldn’t be so anxious to attack either. If I had Meade’s timid temperament, perhaps I would have done just what he had done. Anyhow, it is water under the bridge now. If I send this letter, it will relieve my feelings, but it will make Meade try to justify himself. It will make him condemn me. It will arouse hard feelings, impair all his further usefulness as a commander, and perhaps force him to resign from the army.” So, as I have already said, Lincoln put the letter aside, for he had learned by bitter experience that sharp criticisms and rebukes almost invariably end in futility.
Theodore Roosevelt said that when he, as President, was confronted with a perplexing problem, he used to lean back and look up at a large painting of Lincoln which hung above his desk in the White House and ask himself, “What would Lincoln do if he were in my shoes? How would he solve this problem?” The next time we are tempted to admonish somebody, let’s pull a five-dollar bill out of our pocket, look at Lincoln’s picture on the bill, and ask, “How would Lincoln handle this problem if he had it?”
Mark Twain lost his temper occasionally and wrote letters that turned the paper brown. For example, he once wrote to a man who had aroused his ire: “The thing for you is a burial permit. You have only to speak and I will see that you get it.” On another occasion he wrote to an editor about a proofreader’s attempts to “improve my spelling and punctuation.” He ordered: “Set the matter according to my copy hereafter and see that the proofreader retains his suggestions in the mush of his decayed brain.” The writing of these stinging letters made Mark Twain feel better. They allowed him to blow off steam, and the letters didn’t do any real harm, because Mark Twain’s wife secretly lifted them out of the mail. They were never sent.
Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? Good! That is fine. I am all in favor of it. But why not begin on yourself? From a purely selfish standpoint, that is a lot more profitable than trying to improve others—yes, and a lot less dangerous. “Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof,” said Confucius, “when your own doorstep is unclean.” When I was still young and trying hard to impress people, I wrote a foolish letter to Richard Harding Davis, an author who once loomed large on the literary horizon of America. I was preparing a magazine article about authors, and I asked Davis to tell me about his method of work. A few weeks earlier, I had received a letter from someone with this notation at the bottom: “Dictated but not read.” I was quite impressed. I felt that the writer must be very big and busy and important. I wasn’t the slightest bit busy, but I was eager to make an impression on Richard Harding Davis, so I ended my short note with the words: “Dictated but not read.” He never troubled to answer the letter. He simply returned it to me with this scribbled across the bottom: “Your bad manners are exceeded only by your bad manners.” True, I had blundered, and perhaps I deserved this rebuke. But, being human, I resented it. I resented it so sharply that when I read of the death of Richard Harding Davis ten years later, the one thought that still persisted in my mind—I an ashamed to admit—was the hurt he had given me.
If you and I want to stir up a resentment tomorrow that may rankle across the decades and endure until death, just let us indulge in a little stinging criticism—no matter how certain we are that it is justified.
When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
Bitter criticism caused the sensitive Thomas Hardy, one of the finest novelists ever to enrich English literature, to give up forever the writing of fiction. Criticism drove Thomas Chatterton, the English poet, to suicide.
Benjamin Franklin, tactless in his youth, became so diplomatic, so adroit at handling people, that he was made American Ambassador to France. The secret of his success? “I will speak ill of no man,” he said, “ … and speak all the good I know of everybody.” Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and most fools do.
But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
“A great man shows his greatness,” said Carlyle, “by the way he treats little men.”
Bob Hoover, a famous test pilot and frequent performer at air shows, was returning to his home in Los Angeles from an air show in San Diego. As described in the magazine Flight Operations, at three hundred feet in the air, both engines suddenly stopped. By deft maneuvering he managed to land the plane, but it was badly damaged although nobody was hurt.
Hoover’s first act after the emergency landing was to inspect the airplane’s fuel. Just as he suspected, the World War II propeller plane he had been flying had been fueled with jet fuel rather than gasoline.
Upon returning to the airport, he asked to see the mechanic who had serviced his airplane. The young man was sick with the agony of his mistake. Tears streamed down his face as Hoover approached. He had just caused the loss of a very expensive plane and could have caused the loss of three lives as well.
You can imagine Hoover’s anger. One could anticipate the tongue-lashing that this proud and precise pilot would unleash for that carelessness. But Hoover didn’t scold the mechanic; he didn’t even criticize him. Instead, he put his big arm around the man’s shoulder and said, “To show you I’m sure that you’ll never do this again, I want you to service my F-51 tomorrow.” Often parents are tempted to criticize their children. You would expect me to say “don’t.” But I will not. I am merely going to say, “Before you criticize them, read one of the classics of American journalism, ‘Father Forgets.’” It originally appeared as an editorial in the People’s Home Journal. We are reprinting it here with the author’s permission, as condensed in the Reader’s Digest: “Father Forgets” is one of those little pieces which—dashed off in a moment of sincere feeling—strikes an echoing chord in so many readers as to become a perennial reprint favorite. Since its first appearance, “Father Forgets” has been reproduced, writes the author, W. Livingston Larned, “in hundreds of magazines and house organs, and in newspapers the country over. It has been reprinted almost as extensively in many foreign languages. I have given personal permission to thousands who wished to read it from school, church, and lecture platforms. It has been ‘on the air’ on countless occasions and programs. Oddly enough, college periodicals have used it, and high-school magazines. Sometimes a little piece seems mysteriously to ‘click.’ This one certainly did.” FATHER FORGETS
W. Livingston Larned
Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!” Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive—and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped.
You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding—this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy—a little boy!” I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.
Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. “To know all is to forgive all.” As Dr. Johnson said: “God himself, sir, does not propose to judge man until the end of his days.”
Why should you and I?
Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
2 The Big Secret of Dealing with People
There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. Did you ever stop to think of that? Yes, just one way. And that is by making the other person want to do it.
Remember, there is no other way.
Of course, you can make someone want to give you his watch by sticking a revolver in his ribs. You can make your employees give you cooperation—until your back is turned—by threatening to fire them. You can make a child do what you want it to do by a whip or a threat. But these crude methods have sharply undesirable repercussions.
The only way I can get you to do anything is by giving you what you want.
What do you want?
Sigmund Freud said that everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex urge and the desire to be great.
John Dewey, one of America’s most profound philosophers, phrased it a bit differently. Dr. Dewey said that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important.” Remember that phrase: “the desire to be important.” It is significant. You are going to hear a lot about it in this book.
What do you want? Not many things, but the few things that you do wish, you crave with an insistence that will not be denied. Some of the things most people want include:
Health and the preservation of life
Money and the things money will buy
Life in the hereafter
The well-being of our children
A feeling of importance
Almost all these wants are usually gratified—all except one. But there is one longing—almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep—which is seldom gratified. It is what Freud calls “the desire to be great.” It is what Dewey calls the “desire to be important.” Lincoln once began a letter saying: “Everybody likes a compliment.” William James said: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” He didn’t speak, mind you, of the “wish” or the “desire” or the “longing” to be appreciated. He said the “craving” to be appreciated.
Here is a gnawing and unfaltering human hunger, and the rare individual who honestly satisfies this heart hunger will hold people in the palm of his or her hand and “even the undertaker will be sorry when he dies.”
The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals. To illustrate: When I was a farm boy out in Missouri, my father bred fine Duroc-Jersey hogs and pedigreed white-faced cattle. We used to exhibit our hogs and white-faced cattle at the country fairs and livestock shows throughout the Middle West. We won first prizes by the score. My father pinned his blue ribbons on a sheet of white muslin, and when friends or visitors came to the house, he would get out the long sheet of muslin. He would hold one end and I would hold the other while he exhibited the blue ribbons.
The hogs didn’t care about the ribbons they had won. But Father did. These prizes gave him a feeling of importance.
If our ancestors hadn’t had this flaming urge for a feeling of importance, civilization would have been impossible. Without it, we should have been just about like animals.
It was this desire for a feeling of importance that led an uneducated, poverty-stricken grocery clerk to study some law books he found in the bottom of a barrel of household plunder that he had bought for fifty cents. You have probably heard of this grocery clerk. His name was Lincoln.
It was this desire for a feeling of importance that inspired Dickens to write his immortal novels. This desire inspired Sir Christopher Wren to design his symphonies in stone. This desire made Rockefeller amass millions that he never spent! And this same desire made the richest family in your town build a house far too large for its requirements.
This desire makes you want to wear the latest styles, drive the latest cars, and talk about your brilliant children.
It is this desire that lures many boys and girls into joining gangs and engaging in criminal activities. The average young criminal, according to E. P. Mulrooney, onetime police commissioner of New York, is filled with ego, and his first request after arrest is for those lurid newspapers that make him out a hero. The disagreeable prospect of serving time seems remote so long as he can gloat over his likeness sharing space with pictures of sports figures, movie and TV stars and politicians.
If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I’ll tell you what you are. That determines your character. That is the most significant thing about you. For example, John D. Rockefeller got his feeling of importance by giving money to erect a modern hospital in Peking, China, to care for millions of poor people whom he had never seen and never would see. Dillinger, on the other hand, got his feeling of importance by being a bandit, a bank robber and killer. When the FBI agents were hunting him, he dashed into a farmhouse up in Minnesota and said, “I’m Dillinger!” He was proud of the fact that he was Public Enemy Number One. “I’m not going to hurt you, but I’m Dillinger!” he said.
Yes, the one significant difference between Dillinger and Rockefeller is how they got their feeling of importance.
History sparkles with amusing examples of famous people struggling for a feeling of importance. Even George Washington wanted to be called “His Mightiness, the President of the United States”; and Columbus pleaded for the title “Admiral of the Ocean and Viceroy of India.” Catherine the Great refused to open letters that were not addressed to “Her Imperial Majesty”; and Mrs. Lincoln, in the White House, turned upon Mrs. Grant like a tigress and shouted, “How dare you be seated in my presence until I invite you!” Our millionaires helped finance Admiral Byrd’s expedition to the Antarctic in 1928 with the understanding that ranges of icy mountains would be named after them; and Victor Hugo aspired to have nothing less than the city of Paris renamed in his honor. Even Shakespeare, mightiest of the mighty, tried to add luster to his name by procuring a coat of arms for his family.
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