Dale Carnegie’s legendary book, How to Win Friends and Influence People is a book on human relations—on getting along with people, on the need for friends in living a full life. Resisting the temptation to criticize and getting in the habit of giving praise and honest appreciation will do more than anything else to make people like us. And the same things that make us happy in the world will give us a happy home life too—the first need of every man and woman.
Carnegie expounded on this when he told a story of Abraham Lincoln, a man who often had the occasion to criticize.
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, impassible river in front of him, and a victorious Union Army behind him. Lee was in a trap. He couldn’t escape. Lincoln saw that, and with it, a golden, heaven-sent opportunity to capture Lee’s army and end the war immediately.
With high hopes, Lincoln ordered his General 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.
What did Meade to? He did the very opposite of what his commander-in-chief told him 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 and refused point-blank to attack Lee.
Lincoln was furious and wrote a scathing letter to Meade indicating his bitter disappointment. But Meade never saw the letter—it was found among Lincoln’s papers after his death.
Dale Carnegie had a theory as to why Lincoln never sent the letter. He surmised that Lincoln—once he had gotten over the shock of his orders being ignored—took stock of the situation thought he might have been too hasty. Perhaps he thought that it was easy for him, sitting there in the quiet of the White House, to issue such directives; but if he had been up at Gettysburg, and if he had seen as much blood as Meade had seen during the last week of battle, and if his ears had been pierced with the screams and shrieks of the wornded and dying, maybe he wouldn’t be so anxious to attack either.
So instead of rushing to condemn 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.
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