Winning Friends & Influencing People: Changing People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

If you need to go back and read the intro to this series, or learn about fundamental techniques in handling people, ways to make people like you, or winning people to your way of thinking please click on the links to do so.

 

While preparing this concluding segment of the series I couldn’t help but ponder if winning friends & influencing people is even a goal for the masses anymore. It seems to me that we live in a society where the vast majority of folks are, at the very least, egotistical to the point of being bulls in a china shop in an effort to get ahead and promote their own agenda, or worse, oftentimes proud of purposely irritating others just to prove a point. My mother & maternal grandmother always said “you get more flies with honey than vinegar”, and I think that is a good summary of Dale Carnegie’s ideas. He just happened to expand upon the thought and suggest some specifics to achieve the goal. At any rate, I hope anyone who has read my summary of Carnegie’s techniques will a) read the book in its entirety, and b) apply what you learn in real life situations. On balance I believe you will find it to be a positive in your life.

 

If you don’t want to upset others “begin with praise and honest appreciation”. It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise. A barber lathers a man before he shaves him. Sometimes you can get everything you want without even asking for it. Beginning with praise is like a dentist who begins their work with Novocain.

 

Of course there are times when one must take steps to correct a situation, and when that time comes it is best to “call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly”. Simply altering one little word can make the difference between failure & success in changing people without offending them or causing resentment. The forbidden word is “but”. Change the word “but” to “and”, which will call attention to behavior we want to change indirectly and make the person want to live up to expectations. Calling indirect attention to a person’s mistakes works wonders with sensitive people who might resent direct criticism.

 

One way to soften the blow of criticism is to “talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person”. It isn’t nearly as difficult to listen to comments about your own faults if the other person humbly admits that they aren’t perfect themselves. If a few sentences of humbling oneself and praising the other party can turn things around in a tense situation imagine what humility & praise can do in our daily lives.

 

We should also “ask questions instead of giving direct orders”. Give suggestions not orders, and provide people an opportunity to do things themselves so they can learn from their mistakes. Save a person’s pride and give them a feeling of importance, which will encourage cooperation instead of rebellion. Resentment caused by a brash order may last for a long time. Asking questions not only makes an order more palatable, it stimulates creativity. People are more likely to accept an order if they have a part in the decision making process.

 

In anything resembling a confrontation it is important to “let the other person save face”. We tend to ride roughshod over others’ feelings. We want to get our own way, find fault, issue threats, and criticize without considering the hurt it causes to other people’s pride. Thoughtful consideration & genuine understanding goes a long way. Consider the negative effects of fault finding versus the positive effects of letting others’ save face. Even if we are right and the other person is definitely wrong we only destroy their ego by causing someone else to lose face. We have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a person in their own eyes. It doesn’t matter as much what you think of a person as what they think of themselves. Don’t ever hurt another person’s dignity.

 

In contrast to criticism we should “praise heartily”.  Again, think of your favorite pet. Why don’t we use the same common sense when trying to change people that we use when trying to change dogs?? Use meat instead of a whip. Use praise instead of condemnation. Praise improvement, which inspires further improvement. Praise is like sunlight to the human spirit, and we cannot grow without it. History is replete with the sheer witchery of praise. When criticism is minimized and praise emphasized the good things people do are reinforced while the bad things will atrophy from lack of attention. Praise becomes much more meaningful when specific accomplishments are singled out in contrast to general flattering remarks. We all crave appreciation, recognition, & praise and will do almost anything to receive it, but when it is specific it feels more sincere. Nobody wants insincere flattery. Compared with what we ought to be we are oftentimes only half awake and making use of only a small amount of our physical & mental resources. We live far within our limits and habitually fail to use all of our powers. If we can inspire people to a realization of the hidden treasures they possess we can help transform those individuals. All of us have the ability to praise people and inspire them with a realization of latent possibilities. Abilities wither under criticism but blossom with encouragement.

 

Another thing that we can do is “give the other person a fine reputation to live up to”. The average person can be led readily if you have their respect and show that you respect their abilities. If you want a person to improve in a certain aspect act as though that particular trait is already one of their strengths. Shakespeare advised to “assume a virtue if you have it not”. Assume & state openly that a person has the virtue that you want them to develop. Give them a reputation to live up to and they will make prodigious efforts rather than disappoint others. Oftentimes people are unaware of the treasures that lie within.

 

Closely related to not criticizing but a little more explicit is “using encouragement  while making a fault seem easy to correct”. Telling a person that they are stupid or untalented or are doing something totally wrong destroys any incentive for improvement. Use copious amounts of encouragement. Make improvement seem possible, even easy. Let someone know that you have faith in them, that they have untapped potential. Doing so will stimulate an effort to excel.

 

Though it may not seem like an easy task to accomplish, “make a person happy about doing the thing you suggest”.  Create the impression that by accepting a mission a person will be doing you a favor. Don’t give people time to feel unhappy. Change their thoughts in a positive direction. Be sincere. Don’t promise anything you cannot deliver. Put aside any benefits for yourself and focus on benefits to the other person. Be specific. Know exactly what it is you want or need from another person. Be empathetic. Always ask yourself what another person wants or needs. Consider the benefits a person may receive from doing what you ask and match them up with that person’s wants. When making a request of another person convey to them how they will benefit.

Winning Friends & Influencing People: Win People to Your Way of Thinking

If you have not read the previous installments of this series you can easily catch up here, here, & here.

 

There…are you up to speed now?? Cool deal. I’ll spare you a loquacious and cut to the chase. You’re welcome.

 

 

 

First & foremost, we must understand that “the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it”. There is only one way to get the best of an argument: avoid it. You can’t win an argument…if you lose it you lose, and if you win it you lose. Making another person feel inferior & hurting their pride will only cause resentment. Benjamin Franklin…I think we can all agree a rather intelligent dude…said that “if you argue & rankle & contradict you may achieve victory, but it will be an empty victory because you will never receive your opponent’s good will”. Why prove to a person that they are wrong?? Is that going to make them like you?? Why not let them save face?? They didn’t ask for or want your opinion. Why argue?? Always avoid the acute angle. 9 times out of 10 an argument ends with each party more convinced than ever that they are absolutely right. Which wouldyou rather have…an academic, theatrical victory, or a person’s good will?? You can rarely have both. You may be absolutely right in your argument, but trying to change another’s mind is just as futile as if you were wrong. A misunderstanding is never ended by an argument. It is ended by diplomacy, tact, conciliation, & a sympathetic desire to see the other viewpoint. Abraham Lincoln once offered that “No man who is resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take the consequences, including the vitiation of his temper and the loss of self-control. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.” When two people yell there is no communication…just noise & bad vibrations. Contrary to arguing we should welcome disagreement. Perhaps it is an opportunity to be corrected before a serious mistake is made. Distrust your instinct to be defensive. It may be you at your worst, not your best. Control your temper. You can measure the size of a person by what makes them angry. Listen first. Let the other person finish their thought. Don’t resist, defend, or debate…it raises barriers. Build bridges of understanding. Seek areas of agreement. Apologize for errors, which will reduce defensiveness in the other person. Sincerely promise to consider the other person’s ideas. Thank the other person for their interest. Anyone who takes time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Postpone action in order to give proper time to think about the issue.

 

We should “never say ‘you’re wrong’”. Galileo advised that “you cannot teach a man anything…you can only help him find it within himself”. Nothing good is accomplished when telling a person that they are wrong. You only succeed in stripping them of their dignity. Show respect for the opinions of others. If you can’t be sure of being right atleast 55% of the time why should you tell other people they are wrong?? You can tell someone they are wrong by a look, an intonation, or a gesture just as eloquently as you can with words. If you tell someone they are wrong you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride, & self-respect and they’ll want to strike back instead of changing their mind. We like to continue believing what we have previously accepted as truth. When others cast doubt on our assumptions it causes resentment and we seek excuses to cling to what we believe. Few people are logical. Most of us are biased and blighted with preconceived notions, jealousy, suspicion, fear, envy, & pride. If we are told we are wrong we resent the allegation and harden our hearts. We can be incredibly reckless in the formation of our beliefs yet become filled with illicit passion for them when someone proposes to rob us of their companionship. It is difficult in even the best conditions to change peoples’ minds, and a challenge arouses opposition, prompting the other person to want to go to battle. The word humility springs to mind.  “My” is an important word in human affairs. Reckoning properly with it is the beginning of wisdom. Socrates humbly said that “one thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing”, an admission many have a hard time making. Nobody will ever object to you saying “I may be wrong…let’s examine the facts.” Begin that way even if you know for sure that you are right. It will stop an argument and inspire the other party to be just as fair & broad-minded as you are being. When we are wrong we may admit it to ourselves, but if others are trying to ram that fact down our throats we dig in. Only if we are handled gently and with tact might we eventually admit our error to others. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely opined that “I judge people by their own principles, not my own”.

 

Though it goes against our very nature one absolutely has to “admit when you are wrong”. If you are wrong admit it quickly & emphatically. Have the courage not to seek alibis. There is a degree of satisfaction in having the courage to admit when you’re wrong. It clears the air of guilt & defensiveness and oftentimes helps solve the original problem created by the error. When you condemn yourself the other person will nourish their self-esteem by taking the magnanimous attitude of showing mercy. If we know we face rebuke anyway, isn’t it better beat others to the punch and do it ourselves?? It is easier to listen to self-criticism than the condemnation of others. Eagerness to criticize yourself will take all the fight out of others. Any fool can try to defend their mistakes, but it gives one a feeling of exultation to admit their mistakes. When we are right we should try to win people gently & tactfully to our way of thinking, and when we are wrong we must be honest with ourselves. By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.

 

It helps to start out any interaction by learning to “begin in a friendly way”. Woodrow Wilson warned “if you come at me with your fists doubled I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours”. Lincoln suggested “if you would win a man to your cause first convince him that you are his sincere friend”. People don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree. However, they may possibly be led to it by those who are ever so gentle & friendly. Friendliness always begets friendliness. Bulldozing, high pressure methods, and attempts to force opinions on others will not work. Gentleness & friendliness are always stronger than fury & force. Kindness, appreciation, and a friendly approach will make people change their minds more readily than all the bluster in the world.

 

An interesting technique is to “get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately”. Keep them from saying no. Don’t begin a conversation by discussing the things about which you differ…emphasize the things about which you agree. When a person has said no pride demands they remain consistent, so getting a number of yes responses right off the bat psychologically points the listener in a positive direction. People get a sense of their own importance by antagonizing others, but it doesn’t pay to argue. It is much more interesting & profitable to look at things from the other person’s point of view. Use the Socratic method – ask questions with which others have to agree. Keep on winning one yes after another. Keep on asking questions until others find themselves embracing a conclusion they might not have at the outset.

 

Remember what we said about being a good listener?? “Let the other person do a great deal of the talking”. Don’t do too much talking. Let the other person talk themselves out. Don’t interrupt. People won’t pay attention to you while they still have ideas they wish to express. Listen patiently and with an open mind. Even our friends would rather talk about their achievements than listen to us boast about ours. If you want enemies, outshine your friends, but if you want friends let your friends outshine you. When our friends excel us they feel important, but when we outdo them they will feel inferior & envious.

 

It may be difficult, but “let the other person feel that an idea is theirs”. You have much more faith in ideas you discover for yourself than in ideas that are handed to you on a silver platter. The best way to convert someone to an idea is to plant it in their mind casually. It is bad judgment to ram your opinions down the throats of others. It is wiser to make suggestions and let others figure out the proper conclusion. No one likes feeling like they are being sold something or being told to do something. We prefer to feel like we are doing things of our own accord. We like being consulted about our wishes & wants. Emerson acknowledged that “in every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts…they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty”. Lao-tse put it another way, saying that “The reason why rivers & seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them, thus they are able to reign over all the streams. So the sage wishing to be above men puts himself below them. Wishing to be before them he puts himself behind them, thus, though his place be above men they do not feel his weight, though his place be before them they do not count it an injury.”

 

Some great advice is to “try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view”. Conversational cooperation is achieved when you show that you consider another person’s feelings & ideas as important as your own. Increase your tendency to think in terms of another’s point of view & see things from their angle as well as your own. People might be totally wrong…but they don’t think so. Any fool can condemn them, but only wise, tolerant, exceptional people will try to understand them. By becoming more interested in the cause we are less likely to dislike the effect. Contrast your interest in your own affairs with your mild concern about anything else and realize that everyone else feels the same way.

 

Closely related is “being sympathetic to the ideas and desires of others”.  An answer such as “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling like you do. If I were you I’d feel the exact same way” will soften even the most hardhearted, cantankerous person. People who come to you feeling irritated deserve very little dishonor for their feelings. Pity them. Sympathize with them. Most everyone you meet is hungering & thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them and they will love you. Try to turn hostility into friendliness. Self-pity for misfortunes real or imagined is a universal practice, but controlling one’s temper and returning kindness in answer to an insult is very satisfying. You’ll have much more fun getting another person to like you than you get from telling them off. There is enormous value in sympathy as a way of neutralizing hard feelings. Sympathy is something human beings universally crave.

 

We should always attempt to “appeal to nobler motives”. Most of us are idealists at heart and prefer motives that sound good. Everyone you meet has a high regard for themselves and enjoys thinking of themselves as unselfish. A person usually has two reasons for doing something…one that sounds good and the real reason. The only sound basis on which to proceed is to assume that a person is being sincere, honest, and truthful. Most people are basically honest and want to live up to their obligations. They will react favorably if you make them feel like you consider them to be honest, upright, and fair.

 

An interesting piece of advice is to “dramatize your ideas”. Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, & dramatic. You need to use showmanship.

 

And finally, we are also advised to “throw down a challenge”. Charles Schwab observed that “the way to get things done is to stimulate competition”.  The desire to excel by meeting a challenge is an infallible way of appealing to a person’s spirit. All men have fears, but the brave put them aside and move forward. What greater challenge can be offered than the opportunity to overcome fear?? Being paid by itself does not bring together or hold good people. It is the game!! Money, benefits, and good working conditions are rarely the most motivating factors of a job. The prime motivator is usually the work itself. If it is exciting and interesting workers will look forward to doing it and doing it well. Every successful person loves the game…the chance for self-expression, the opportunity to prove their worth, the desire to excel, win, & feel important.

 

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Winning Friends & Influencing People: Ways to Make People Like You

How to Win Friends & Influence People includes, in its intro, the following list of things that the book’s instruction will do for the reader:

   * Get you out of a mental rut, giving you new thoughts, visions, & ambitions

   * Enable you to make friends quickly & easily

   * Increase your popularity

   * Help you to win people to your way of thinking

   * Increase your influence, prestige, & ability to get things done

   * Enable you to win new clients & customers

   * Increase your earning power

   * Make you a better salesman & executive

   * Help you to handle complaints, avoid arguments, and keep human contact smooth & pleasant

   * Make you a better speaker & a more entertaining conversationalist

   * Make the principles of psychology easy for you to apply in your daily contacts

   * Help you to arouse enthusiasm among your associates

I’m not so much interested in the business angle myself, simply because I am at an age where my professional life is what it is and after nearly three decades in the workforce I am comfortable with how I handle myself & interact with others on the job. However, the potential benefits of learning Carnegie’s principles can easily be applied to personal relationships and general human interaction. If you haven’t checked out Fundamental Techniques in Handling People please do so at your leisure, but for now we move on to the next section.

 

First & foremost we must “become genuinely interested in others”. People are generally interested in themselves morning, noon, & night, but to be genuinely interested in other people is a most important quality. Once again we can look to the animal kingdom for guidance. A dog is the only animal that doesn’t need to work for a living. Hens must lay eggs, cows have to give milk, & birds have to sing. Dogs make their living by giving nothing but love. For us humans, we can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than we could in two years by trying to get others interested in us. If we merely try to impress people and get them interested in us we will never have many true friends. People who are not interested in their fellow human beings have tremendous difficulties in life and oftentimes fail. All of us like people who admire us. We are interested in others when they are interested in us.

 

Secondly, though it seems like simplistic advice, “smile”. William Shakespeare wrote “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. An ancient Chinese proverb warned “a man without a smiling face must not open a shop”. Greet people with animation & enthusiasm. Force yourself to smile. Act as if you are happy and that tends to make you happy. Actions & feelings go together. Actions speak louder than words, and smiling is an action. By regulating the action we can regulate the feeling. The path to cheerfulness is to sit up cheerfully and to act & speak as if cheerfulness was already present. The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes they wear. People who smile tend to manage, teach, & sell more effectively, and they also raise happier children. There is far more information in a smile than a frown. Encouragement is much more effective than punishment. Conversely, an insincere grin doesn’t fool anybody and others resent it. The effect of a smile is powerful even when it is unseen. Your smile comes thru your voice. I used to be a supervisor at a telemarketing firm and I can confirm that this idea is absolutely true. People rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it. You must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you. Everyone is seeking happiness. The one surefire way to find it is by controlling thoughts. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions, it depends on inner conditions. It isn’t what you have, who you are, where you are, or what you are doing that determines happiness or unhappiness…it is what you think about. Abraham Lincoln said that “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”. Thought is supreme. Preserve a good mental attitude of courage, honesty, & good cheer. To think rightly is to create. A smile is a message of good will that costs nothing but creates much. It enriches those who receive it without impoverishing those that give it. It happens in a flash but the memory of it may last forever. It creates happiness in a home, fosters good will in business, and is a witness of friendship. It provides rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, and sunshine to the sad. It cannot be bought, borrowed, or stolen because it isn’t any good to anybody until it is given away.

 

Next, we learn the importance of knowing & using a person’s name. “A person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound to that person”. People are so proud of their name that they strive to perpetuate it at any cost, so remembering & honoring the names of friends & associates is one of the most obvious & important ways of gaining goodwill.  The average person is more interested in their own name than in all other names on earth combined. Remembering & using names is a way of paying a subtle yet effective compliment. When I graduated from high school I had the person calling names simply say “Sam Mano”, while nearly everyone else had their full name announced. My father had given me the middle name Anthony (and of course the legal first name Samuel), meaning that my initials spell Sam, something that I’ve always considered a rather ingenious idea from dear old Dad. After the commencement ceremony my parents asked me why my full name hadn’t been used and I immediately realized my mistake. I’ve regretted it for nearly three decades. If you forget or misspell a name you have placed yourself at a significant disadvantage. Emerson stated that “good manners are made up of petty sacrifices. Many people don’t remember names because they don’t take the time & energy to concentrate so as to fix names indelibly in their mind. They are too busy and make excuses for not remembering names. Politicians know that “to recall a voter’s name is statesmanship, to forget it is oblivion”. Be aware of the magic contained in a name and understand that it is wholly & completely owned by that one individual. Their name sets that person apart and makes them unique.

 

We then learn that it is vital to “be a good listener & encourage others to talk about themselves”. An interesting conversationalist hardly says anything at all…they listen intently. Good listeners are preferred over good talkers. Unfortunately the ability to listen is a rare trait. Listening is one of the highest compliments we can pay anyone because nothing is more satisfying than having the exclusive attention of the person to whom you are speaking. To be interesting be interested. People are much more interested in themselves & their wants than they are the problems of others. If you want people to shun, despise, & laugh at you behind your back then don’t listen, talk incessantly about yourself, & constantly interrupt others. A person who does that is intoxicated with their own ego and drunk with self-importance. Listening is not mere silence, but a form of activity. Hear with your eyes as well as your ears. Listen with your mind and attentively consider what the other person is saying. Even the most strident critic will usually soften & be subdued in the presence of a patient, sympathetic listener. Many fail to make a favorable impression because they don’t listen attentively…they are too concerned with what they are going to say next. People don’t always want advice…sometimes they just want a friendly & sympathetic person to listen. People who talk only of themselves think only of themselves. They are hopelessly uneducated no matter what kind of degree they might hold.

 

We must “talk in terms of the other person’s interests”. Make yourself agreeable. The royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things they treasure most. Talking in terms of the other person’s interests pays off for both parties. Both lives are enriched by the interaction.

 

And finally, learn to “sincerely make the other person feel important “. The lives of many could be changed if only someone would make them feel important. There is one all important law of human conduct: always make others feel important. Almost all the people we meet feel superior in some way, and it is important to let them know that we sincerely recognize their importance. Remember The Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. If we obey that law we will almost never get into trouble, and the observance will bring with it countless friends & constant happiness. Frequently those who have the least justification for a sense of achievement boost their own ego with a nauseating show of conceit. If we’re so selfish that we can’t radiate a bit of happiness and show a little honest appreciation without wanting something in return we are doomed to justified failure. To do something for someone without them being able to do anything in return provides a feeling that lives on long after the act. Courtesy oils the gears of the monotonous grind of everyday life and is the hallmark of good breeding.

Winning Friends & Influencing People: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

I mentioned in the introduction that How to Win Friends and Influence People is broken down into four sections. One of the things that I have always tried to consider since the inception of The Manofesto is readability. Very few people have the time or patience these days to read a 5000 word blog post no matter how insightful or fascinating it may be. I realize that I can be somewhat verbose on occasion, which goes directly against Shakespeare’s instruction that “brevity is the soul of wit”, so, atleast for this occasion, I am making an effort to break things down into more manageable pieces.

 

Carnegie first advises “don’t criticize, condemn, or complain”. Criticism & rebuke invariably fails. Criticism is futile because it puts others on the defensive, forces them to justify themselves, & wounds their pride. It hurts their sense of importance, kills ambition, & causes resentment. 99% of the time people won’t criticize themselves no matter how wrong they are. An analogy to pets that all of us can understand: animals rewarded for good behavior learn much quicker and retain more information than those punished for bad behavior. Human beings are hungry for approval but dread condemnation. We blame everybody but ourselves…it’s human nature. We are not creatures of logic…we are creatures of emotion with prejudices that are motivated by pride & vanity. Any fool can criticize…and most fools do. Conversely, it takes character & self-control to understand & forgive. Instead of condemnation we should try understanding, which leads to sympathy, tolerance, kindness, & forgiveness. Be anxious to praise but loathe to find fault.

 

The next technique we learn is to “give honest and sincere appreciation”. We all want approval, recognition, & a feeling of importance. We crave the stupendous power of sincere appreciation. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated that “every man is my superior in some way…in that I learn of him”. Emerson understood that human beings want the same basic things: health & preservation of life, food, sleep, money (and the things money can buy), the afterlife, sexual gratification, the well-being of our children, & a feeling of importance. The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be great or important, but it is the most difficult need to satisfy. Anyone who fulfills that need for another will hold that person in the palm of their hand. Everything humans do is primarily motivated by two things: sex & the desire to be great. The desire for a feeling of importance distinguishes mankind from animals. How a person gets their feeling of importance defines who they are and determines their character. People can actually go insane seeking to find, in their insanity, the feeling of importance that has been denied to them in reality. Considering that, imagine what you can achieve by giving sane people honest appreciation. Everybody likes compliments. Everybody wants to be appreciated. Studies show that the main reason spouses stray and/or leave is a lack of appreciation. Appreciation is “legal tender that all souls enjoy”. Never underestimate the power of appreciation, confidence, & consideration. We crave it almost as much as we do food. People will do better work & put forth more effort under a spirit of approval than they ever will under a spirit of criticism. The only way to really get anybody to do anything is to make them want to do it. Kind words remain fond memories for years. Conversely, shallow flattery usually fails, doing more harm than good in the long run. Flattery is telling a person precisely what they think of themselves. It comes from the teeth and is cheap, insincere, & selfish, while sincere appreciation comes from the heart & is universally admired. Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you…be afraid of friends who flatter you. We spend 95% of our time thinking about ourselves. If we stop thinking about ourselves & focus on the good points of others we won’t need to resort to flattery…we can show them genuine appreciation, one of the most neglected virtues of our daily existence.

 

And finally, Carnegies advises to “arouse an eager want”, opining that it is necessary to bait the hook to suit the fish. Henry Ford said that “the ability to see other peoples’ point of view as well as one’s own is the key to success”. We are all eternally interested in what we want, so the best way to influence people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it. Every act we have done since the day we were born has been performed because we wanted something. Self-expression is the dominant necessity of human nature. Action springs from fundamental desire. Even many of the most educated people go thru life without ever discovering how their own mind functions. One who can arouse in others an eager want has the whole world with them, while those who cannot walk a lonely road. The world is full of self-seekers. Therefore, an individual who unselfishly tries to serve others is rare and has an enormous advantage over the self-seeker. We are interested in solving our own problems, and if a person can show us how they can help us do that we’ll be buying without them needing to sell us anything. People who can put themselves in the place of others and understand the workings of their minds won’t ever need to worry about their future.

 

Stay tuned for the next installment…coming soon.

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Winning Friends & Influencing People: An Introduction

I first read Dale Carnegie’s Winning Friends & Influencing People three decades ago as a young teenager. I was a nerdy kid with odd tastes in reading material, and the idea of making friends & being influential seemed pretty cool. I can’t honestly say that I have utilized Mr. Carnegie’s concepts in the ensuing years, atleast not intentionally. However, I would like to think that I learned a bit thru osmosis and have been using these techniques on some subconscious level. I recently decided, for no apparent reason, to re-read the book, and since I now have this forum to share my thoughts with the masses I am passing on the ideas within on to The Manoverse. You’re welcome.

 

In case you are curious…no, Dale Carnegie is not related to Andrew Carnegie (for whom Carnegie Hall in NY City & Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh is named). As a matter of fact, Dale Carnagey changed the spelling of his surname to capitalize on the prominence of the highly esteemed steel tycoon & philanthropist. Dale C. was a salesman of modest means who eventually began teaching courses in public speaking. He wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936, and eighty+ years later people are still reading it. Over 30 million copies have been sold, and it is universally regarded as one of the most influential books ever written. Dale Carnegie almost single-handedly created the self-help genre of books, which, depending on one’s perspective, is either a great thing or a sign that the end is near. I tend not to get too caught up in those kinds of books, but an occasional gem pops up, and this is definitely one of the best.

 

I suppose some might consider the ideas espoused by Carnegie a bit manipulative. However, he makes it very clear…more than once…that anyone who uses the skills he teaches must do so genuinely. Trickery & deceit may work temporarily, but at the end of the day such duplicity is better left to fictional villains on TV & in movies. Keep it real…if there is one major philosophy to take away from the book that might be at the top of the list. Of course there are moments (far too frequently for some of us) when what we are really thinking & feeling and what we’d like to actually say or do would certainly not accomplish the stated goals in the book’s title. It is precisely those situations in which the things taught by Carnegie come in handy. His ideas need to become more of a perpetual attitude & approach to social interaction, not a fraudulent hoax to get what we want. I have found it much easier in my life to be authentic & honest rather than keep track of a trail of lies that tend to multiply exponentially, and being a decent, kind, cooperative person is better for your health & well-being. Other people actually liking you is really just a nice bonus.

 

How to Win Friends & Influence People is broken down into four sections: fundamental techniques in handling people, ways to make people like you, winning people to your way of thinking, & changing people without giving offense or arousing resentment. In the interest of reading comprehension, good eye health, & old-fashioned reader satisfaction I think it is best to separate my contribution here into those four parts, and so I shall. Stay tuned.

Invisible Tattoo

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. It takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. – William Wordsworth

 

I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever been a poetry kind of guy. Like anything else I consume…food, books, entertainment…I go thru various moods, bouncing from one thing to another as fancy strikes, but there are certain constants to which I always return, and poetry has never been one of those things for me. Having said that, I do occasionally dabble, atleast as a reader. And now I may be inspired to actually write poetry thanks to my friend Jennifer.

 

 

My college years remain, in my heart & soul, the best years of my life, and though I haven’t seen most of them in a couple of decades social media has allowed me to remain “friends” with many of those that were a part of my circle back then. One such person is Jennifer Saunders, who recently published a book of poetry called Invisible Tattoo. I am fortunate enough to have a job that requires my presence but little else, meaning that I spend my time there reading books & watching television. So on a quiet Friday night I decided to splurge on the $3 download and check out Jennifer’s book.

 

 

Aristotle called poetry “something more philosophical and of graver import than history”, while Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg defined it as “the synthesis of hyacinths & biscuits”. I think poetry means something different to everyone, and Invisible Tattoo is an intensely personal look into the author’s life & psyche. Knowing a bit about her journey made reading the book a little more…accessible…to me, but really many of the things she writes about are universal ideas to which everyone can relate. She explains the title of the book as alluding to “the impressions that experiences created on the inside”, which makes such beautiful sense. A cynic might more ominously describe the marks that life leaves us with as scars, but Jennifer isn’t misanthropic like that, which is part of her charm.

 

 

The poems that I connected with the most in the book are a set of about eight allusions to life in general. Butterfly uses one of nature’s loveliest creatures as an allegory for the ups & downs of life. The book’s titular poem talks about feeling stuck and, as I mentioned (because, in contrast to the author, I am a little nihilistic) the scars of life. By Myself speaks of the melancholy need for peace amidst chaos. The austerely titled Life is about confusion and dreams vs. reality. Mistake alludes to the bad decisions that reside in us all. Old vs. New compares the evolution of a small town to the transitions that we all go through. Syncopation of Life is an observation about busyness, the hustle & bustle of daily living. And finally, What Was Once Before Is Not Anymore is about change, the yin & yang of life.

 

 

A couple of poems are about growth. Caught talks about growing older, while Identity Lost uses the symbolism of a little girl’s love for ballet to talk about growing up, facing reality, and the idea that dreams may fade away but they rarely die.

 

 

Romance is in the air with Dark Horse, which speaks about meeting up with a lover, and Hide & Seek, centering on a dreamy kiss in a dark tunnel.

 

 

How Do I Know God Is Real? answers its own question and makes total sense.

 

 

Lucille, a dream about reuniting with a dead loved one at a church revival, and My Nana, in which the author remembers her late grandmother, are delicately lovely insights into the soul of a person whose family is a huge & important part of her.

 

 

Ray Bradbury would be proud of a set of poems that recognize the majesty of nature & space. Magic focuses on the awe inspiring moon, while Moon Walk speaks of its comforting peace. Midnight Storm sees a warm summer day turn into a dark, powerful, & beautiful tempest. Night gently expresses the feeling of drifting off to sleep on a quiet summer night. Spring is aptly titled and an appropriately charming depiction. Summer Blessing is about a pleasant summer day in the backyard. Sunrise is another self-explanatory & fittingly titled slice of life, while Sunset Over the Ohio River is a little more specific and elicited warm memories for me.

 

 

New Day compares people to books, and as a bibliophile who, as my friend The Owl says, “lives in a library”, I really enjoyed the comparison. The Book fits into the same category, as does the simply titled Words.

 

 

Soul Landscape contrasts darkness & light, while Self-Consumed speaks about selfishness and the need for companionship.

 

 

There are many other poems in Invisible Tattoo…these are just the ones that happen to resonate with me. I would encourage anyone looking for a quick, enjoyable read to hop on Amazon and either order a hard copy or download it onto your e-reading device. I hope Jennifer continues to write, whether that means more poetry or any other direction in which she is led to go.

 

Sherlock Holmes: The “Novels”

Four Sherlock Holmes novels were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle between 1887 & 1914. Of course he also wrote 56 short stories featuring Holmes, but we’ll do a little something with those in the future. For now let’s examine the novels.

 

 

 

 

 

A Study in Scarlet

scarletI am a sucker for origin stories, and Scarlet is the genesis of the Holmes-Watson friendship. It lays the foundation for everything we know about Sherlock Holmes…his physical features, his unique personality, his keen knowledge of certain subjects (and lack of familiarity with others), & the whole idea of deductive reasoning as it applies to crime solving specifically and assessing people & situations in general. Oh, and it also gives us the very first case that Holmes & Watson ever worked on together as well as Dr. Watson’s first foray into chronicling their adventures. That mystery involves a double murder in which the catalyst is…of course…a woman. The middle section of the story takes us back to Salt Lake City a couple of decades earlier and promotes some rather harsh ideas about the Mormon religion. We must not overlook the success of A Study in Scarlet in stimulating the public appetite for Sherlock Holmes. He is a literary icon a century later in part because Scarlet provided such a great beginning.

 

 

The Sign of the Four

fourThree years after A Study in Scarlet and a year before the first of the short stories was published came this little gem. The story revolves around the mysterious death of a British Army officer and the disappearance of the treasure that he had absconded with from India. There is much more exposition about Holmes’ methods, philosophy, & attitudes, and a latter section of the tale features a thrilling boat chase down the celebrated River Thames. The client who initially hires Holmes is Mary Morstan, who quickly falls for Dr. Watson and would go on to become his wife…one of them anyway. The opening & closing scenes of The Sign of the Four allude to Sherlock Holmes’ disturbing cocaine habit, one of the few controversial aspects of the canon, especially thru the prism of modern sensibilities.

 

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles

hound2In 1893, after two novels and 24 short stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes. However, the public clamored for more of the world’s greatest detective and in 1901 Doyle relented with this novel, set before Holmes’ alleged death at Reichenbach Falls in a battle with his archenemy Moriarty. It tells a tale of the mysterious death of a wealthy aristocrat in the south of England, possibly at the paws of a fabled demonic dog that is part of an old family legend. A new heir is set to inherit the family estate and all that comes with it, but strange things are afoot and the young gentleman’s life may also be in danger. Dr. Watson accompanies Sir Henry Baskerville to his new digs and Sherlock Holmes is actually MIA for a big chunk of the story, but eventually he arrives on the scene to unravel the mystery. The eight year break must have treated Doyle well because the writing here is stupendous. Hound is set in October and the author effectively fashions the mood of a dreary, dank, foreboding autumn. Doyle makes one want to stay far far away from a British moor. There are several interesting characters and the mystery is more nuanced than most other Holmes stories. Hound was so well received that Doyle went on to write 32 more short stories and an additional novel.

 

 

The Valley of Fear

vfThe final Sherlock Holmes novel was written in 1914. Holmes & Watson are dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of an English country gentleman who turns out not to be quite so dead. As with A Study in Scarlet, a big chunk of The Valley of Fear is a flashback story that takes us back two decades when the protagonist was an alleged violent hooligan in America and part of a secret society modeled after the real life Molly Maguires. However, he was actually an agent of the famed Pinkerton Agency sent to infiltrate the society and bring them to justice. Unfortunately justice isn’t always perfect and one of the society’s more ferocious members only gets a few years in prison, thereafter chasing our hero all over the globe, ending up in England. Valley is notable for its extensive exposition about Professor Moriarty, a character that has risen to the high honor of being thought of as Holmes’ archenemy despite only being alluded to in a handful of the canon’s stories. In this instance Moriarty’s assistance is apparently sought by evildoers in hunting down the protagonist. At first it looks like the good guys have won, but by the end we learn the tragic news that the malevolent Professor has gotten the job done, much to the chagrin of Sherlock Holmes. The mystery is well-conceived, with unpredictable twists & turns that keep the pages turning, but the flashback section that is devoid of our favorite detective, his trusty sidekick, or any of the ambiance of Victorian England doesn’t feel like a Holmes story at all.

 

 

 

The Best??

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles. I rather enjoy all four Holmes novels. A Study in Scarlet is a fantastic origin story. The Sign of the Four is exhilarating and well-written but a flashback sequence to another time & place sort of kills the momentum. The Valley of Fear is unpredictable & fresh, yet a flashback sequence that once again takes us out of Victorian England into another decade of the past in America where Holmes, Watson, etc. are nowhere to be found weakens the story to a degree. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a beautifully written, intricately woven mystery. It is true that most of the action takes place away from 221B Baker St. and that Holmes is absent for a chunk of the story, but Watson is ever-present and if a Holmes story must be located somewhere other than foggy old London then the lonely, dank, sinister moor on which the Baskerville estate rests is a worthy substitute. Hound is probably the most popular Sherlock Holmes story, and has been adapted many times on film. However, one cannot get the full effect any other way than by reading Conan Doyle’s beautifully evocative prose. I suggest reading Hound in the autumn just before Halloween, not only because that is the timeframe of the novel itself, but because it evokes a mood impeccably aligned with the season.

Man’s Search For Meaning

No matter how much we try to run away from this thirst for the answer to life, for the meaning of life, the intensity only gets stronger and stronger. We cannot escape these spiritual hungers. – Ravi Zacharias

 

 

 

So…you might have clicked on the link assuming…due to the title…that I’m about to drop some profound knowledge up in here. Well, you’d be right…it’s not my own profundity though.

 

bowlJust like multiple occasions in the past I have to give a shout out to my friend, my brother from another mother, The Owl, who strongly recommended to me Viktor Frankel’s 1946 best seller Man’s Search for Meaning. I have a vague recollection of maybe sorta kinda possibly hearing about the book long long ago, but then again that might just be wishful thinking. Anyway, after hearing The Owl…a man with impossibly high standards who is perpetually unimpressed by most everything…heap praise upon this book as if it is one of the best things ever written I put it in my Amazon shopping cart. However, when he continued his profuse admiration I decided to take things a step further. My sister had given me a tablet last Christmas but I’m a bit old-fashioned & stubborn, so I still prefer my laptop and have dismissed “e-reading” ever since I bought a first generation Kindletablet years ago and used it no more than twice. At any rate, I concluded that I needed to take a baby step into modern times and also be appreciative of a very thoughtful gift, so I downloaded Man’s Search for Meaning on my Kindle app and spent a few nights winding down by reading what isn’t that lengthy of a book.

 

It turns out that it was a fantastic decision.

 

meaning_of_life_1763245Author Joseph Campbell said that “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” Anaïs Nin stated that ““There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” Robert Louis Stevenson said that “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” Leo Tolstoy believed that “the sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” The Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger says that “For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz admitted that “I don’t know the meaning of life. I don’t know why we aremeaning-of-life1 here. I think life is full of anxieties and fears and tears. It has a lot of grief in it, and it can be very grim. And I do not want to be the one who tries to tell somebody else what life is all about. To me it’s a complete mystery.” Douglas Adams, in his classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, opined that “the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything is…42!”.

 

Are they all right?? Or are they all wrong?? According to Dr. Viktor Frankl…yes.

 

psychViktor Frankl is the founding father of a branch of psychology called logotherapy, logos being the Greek word for meaning. Logotherapy advocates the notion that life has meaning under all circumstances (even misery), our motivation for living is our will to find meaning, & we have freedom to find meaning in what we do, what we experience, or in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering. We can discover our meaning in life by a) creating a work or doing a deed, b) experiencing something or encountering someone, or c) in the attitude we take toward unavoidable sorrow. The first way…achievement or accomplishment…should be self-explanatory. The second way…experiencing…could be something general like goodness, truth, & beauty, or more specific such as experiencing nature, culture, or another human being “in his very uniqueness”. We might call that love. Logotherapy differs from other philosophies & schools of thought. For example, nihilism, which is the idea that life is meaningless. Or Sigmund Freud’s Pleasure Principle, which contends that man’s main concern is to find pleasure & avoid pain (you remember…the id, ego, & superego, right?) And then there is the teaching of Alfred Adler & Friedrich Nietzsche, both of whom advanced the notion that our driving force is power, ambition, &, achievement. Conversely, Frankl believed that “striving to find meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man”. He contended that humanity’s “main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the conflicting claims of id, ego and superego, or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment.

 

Dr. Frankl had been working on his theories since the 1930’s, but he was unfortunately derailed during World War II when he ccampspent three years in concentration camps. Or was he derailed?? Being imprisoned actually provided an opportunity for Frankl to see his ideas in a horrific, very real situation. His description of life in the concentration camp makes up a large chunk of Man’s Search for Meaning, and it is a deeply impactful account. It is one thing to read about The Holocaust in high school history books, but it is an entirely different experience to read a first person perspective of the daily life of a prisoner who survived. It is a true blessing not only that Viktor Frankl made it thru such hell on Earth alive, but that he utilized lessons learned there to help people for decades afterward and write such a fantastic book.

 

Let me be clear…I have never been in a concentration camp or prison. I do not want to equate anything I have experienced in my life with those circumstances. However, many of the things Dr. Frankl says make a lot of sense to me and hit home in a very strange way. I once spent 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility, have had a couple of longer than preferred stretches of unemployment, and have spent a great deal of my life feeling isolated & alone due to my disability. In reading Man’s Search for Meaning I felt like Frankl understood such conditions and how they affect one’s psyche and viewpoint.

 

AttitudeDr. Frankl talks a great deal about attitude. He calls humor one of “the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation”, indicating that it “more than anything else in the human make-up can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds”. He affirms the idea that we may not always have a choice about what happens to us but we can choose our attitude toward each situation, citing observances made in the concentration camps that “there were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed…Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress” and “there was an opportunity and a challenge…one could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate”. He says that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” and that a person “can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity”. Frankl believed that the way a person handles suffering can be “a genuine inner achievement…it is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.” The benefits of a life full of “creation & enjoyment” are fairly obvious, but Dr. Frankl also thought that “there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces”. He says that “not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. Man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate”.

 

He says that “love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire”, that “the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart is salvation of man through love and in love.”

 

The U.S. Constitution talks about the “pursuit of happiness”, but Viktor Frankl believes that we may have that completely wrong. He says that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to be happy.”

 

He doesn’t buy into worldly value systems and advises “don’t aim at success…the more you aim at it and make it a target the more you are going to miss it, for success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than yourself”.

 

Frankl’s ideas about “provisional existence”, “negative happiness”, and the “existential vacuum” are spot on:

Provisional existence is essentially living day-to-day, with no thought or hope for the long term future. He applies the notion specifically to institutionalized or imprisoned individuals as well as those who are unemployed. Both examples resonate with me. However, upon further reflection I believe that this is a bigger problem in 21st century America. There seems to be a growing sense of hopelessness and a negative outlook about the future wherein folks just try to get thru the day. I long ago learned to enjoy simple pleasures in life like seeing a movie, having dinner with family, or watching a ballgame because a) it often seems like a safer alternative to being disappointed by failure, and b) short term goals are manageable & realistic. Dr. Frankl says (speaking about prisoners in the concentration camp) that “a man who could not see the end of his provisional existence was not able to aim at an ultimate goal in life. He ceased living for the future, in contrast to a man in normal life. Therefore the whole structure of his inner life changed; signs of decay set in which we know from other areas of life. The unemployed worker, for example, is in a similar position. His existence has become provisional and in a certain sense he cannot live for the future or aim hopelessat a goal. Research work done on unemployed miners has shown that they suffer from a peculiar sort of deformed time— inner time—which is a result of their unemployed state. Prisoners, too, suffered from this strange time-experience. In camp, a small time unit, a day, for example, filled with hourly tortures and fatigue, appeared endless. A larger time unit, perhaps a week, seemed to pass very quickly.” I can attest to that (minus the physical torture). I have experienced days that seemed endless yet weeks, months, & years that seemed to fly. Maybe we all feel like that to a degree as we get a little older, but it is certainly magnified under certain conditions. Frankl talks about retreating inward under such duress, indicating that “this intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence by letting him escape into the past…letting imagination play with past events, often not important ones, but minor happenings and trifling things. His nostalgic memory glorified them and they assumed a strange character. Their world and their existence seemed very distant and the spirit reached out for them longingly”. When tomorrow doesn’t seem all that great it can be comforting to relive the “glory days” in one’s mind. However, this can be unhealthy. Frankl says that “a man who lets himself decline because he cannot not see any future goal finds himself occupied with retrospective thoughts. But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It becomes easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of life. Regarding provisional existence as unreal is in itself an important factor in causing the people to lose their hold on life; everything in a way becomes pointless.” Hearkening back to the concentration camp the author reflects that “the prisoner who had lost faith in the future was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Close the connection is between the state of mind of a man – his courage and hope, or lack of them – and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect.”

Negative happiness is simply freedom from suffering. I kind of chuckled to myself when I read this because, for atleast the past several years, when asked a prosaic question like “How are you?” or “How was your day?” my answer is often “Well, nothing bad happened today, which is good.” It is the classic double edged sword. On one hand it is great that no kind of disaster or tumult totally wrecked the day, but on the other hand is that what we’ve come to?? Have we become so jaded that we don’t expect anything good from life and are satisfied with simply the absence of suffering??

depressFrankl defines the existential vacuum as a condition in which people begin to doubt that life has any meaning. He says that this can lead to noögenic neuroses (noögenic being the Greek word for mind). This despair about the “worthwhileness of life” is more of an existential distress than a mental disease and “manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom”. The author once again cites Schopenhauer, who said that “mankind is apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom.” Man’s Search for Meaning was written nearly 70 years ago, and Frankl astoundingly predicted (accurately) that “boredom is now causing more problems to solve than distress, and these problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.” He wasn’t totally right…we do have ample ways to spend free time. The question is whether or not many of those outlets are suitable, healthy, or truly make anyone happy. Frankl talks about “Sunday neurosis,” which he defines as “that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest”, and says that “depression, aggression, & addiction are not understandable unless we recognize the existential vacuum underlying”. Again this was ¾ of a century ago. I wonder what he’d think about the issues that we face with depression, aggression, & addiction these days??

 

So, what does Viktor Frankl think is the meaning of life?? Well, I’ll let him tell you:

“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. It doesn’t really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who are being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. Life does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand. The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. Ultimately, Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

 

clapAbsolutely brilliant. Citizens, I cannot recommend Man’s Search for Meaning strongly enough. It will change your perspective. It is undoubtedly one of the best books ever written, and at less than 200 pages it’s not a hard read. Seek it. Read it. Let it sink into your soul. You won’t regret the decision.

A Few Book Recommendations for Baseball Fans

Sometimes I surprise myself by the predilections that I develop seemingly out of the mist. I have always fancied myself somewhat of a renaissance man who is interested in a wide range of subjects, which I generally consider a positive though I have noticed over the years that truly successful people seem to have tunnel vision and a laser focus on their vocation of choice. At any rate, this “variety is the spice of life” attitude spreads to the bookshelves in The Bachelor Palace as well, where one can find biographies of Founding Fathers alongside the Harry Potter series, books about agricultural science & history on the same shelf as Hemingway, and Shakespeare sharing space with The Hunger Games.

 

bballAt any rate I have…somewhat to my bewilderment…amassed quite a collection of baseball biographies. This is surprising to me because my feelings about baseball have been tepid at best for quite awhile, although as simple as it sounds and as trivial as it may seem to some I think the success thus far of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates has me on the verge of falling in deep like with our national pastime once again. However, I also think it wise to look a bit deeper because you see my bookshelves are not filled with recent biographies about contemporary players like Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, John Smoltz, or RA Dickey. Cheating scandals & rampant drug use still cause me to be a bit jaded about the modern game of baseball. Instead what you’ll find lining the walls of The Bachelor Palace are tomes about hallowed names of yesteryear…Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Maris, Musial.

If I could hope in the ol’ DeLorean and go back in time I think one of the places I might like to visit would be the world of baseball during its golden age. I’d like to catch some games at places like Ebbets Field or The Polo Grounds, see teams like The Gashouse Gang & The Whiz Kids, and watch Hall of Famers like Dizzy Dean, Pie Traynor, & Pee Wee Reese. Why?? That’s an excellent question that I may address more in depth at some other time. For now it will suffice to say that our collective bromance with this bygone era and the quintessential American game that helped define it seems eternal and that’s okay with me.

Which is all a longwinded precursor to me endorsing three excellent baseball biographies that I have read in years past and that are likely to be enjoyed by any baseball fan. There will be sequels on this particular topic, but I think it best to just whet your appetite right now with a few recommendations:

 

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero

Unfortunately one of the most beloved Pittsburgh Pirates of all time died in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 when I was just 2 months old. However, growing up as a Pirates fan and living just a couple of hours from Pittsburgh means that I have heard a lot about Roberto Clemente my entire life. The Pirates organization has done an excellent job of keeping his memory alive over the past 40 years and recognizing what a truly special talent he was. However, one need not be a Pirates fan to enjoy this first-rate biography about Clemente written by David rcMaraniss, whose biography about Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi called When Pride Still Mattered is still one of the best books of any genre I have ever read. That combined with my admiration for what I’d always heard about Clemente were what prompted me to purchase this book about 5 years ago. This is a well written & engrossing story that is reverent & respectful yet honest about its subject. Clemente was somewhat neurotic & sensitive and felt the weight of being a black latino superstar. He was often treated shabbily by the press but could give as good as he got. In other words Clemente was a flawed human being just like the rest of us. That being said, his nobility & kindness shines through as well. And the author doesn’t shortchange the baseball aspect of things. I sometimes feel as though Roberto Clemente is overlooked in discussions about the greats of the game, with only long time Pirates fans willing to reserve for him his proper place among the baseball immortals. The fact is that not only should Clemente rank right up there with the best that ever played game, but he could have been even better if not for various physical ailments that plagued him throughout life. This is a book that should be read not only by anyone who calls themselves a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, but also by everyone who loves the game of baseball.

 

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

When I was in college I had the opportunity to take a class about sports movies. Yes that really is a thing…and it was gehrigawesome. We watched Knute Rocke: All American (with future President Ronald Reagan as The Gipper), The Natural, and Rocky…among others. But I think my favorite may have been Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig. Most people know two things about Gehrig. They know that he was baseball’s “Iron Man”, having played in 2130 consecutive games between 1925 & 1939 (a record that stood for 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995), and they know that he died at age 37 from the debilitating muscle disease that now bears his name. But there is so much more to Gehrig and this book tells the story well. Many who have seen Pride of the Yankees may attribute the perception we have of Gehrig as a soft spoken, humble, down-to-earth guy to Gary Cooper’s wide-eyed, aw shucks, boy-next-door portrayal, but what the reader of Luckiest Man begins to understand is that Cooper’s portrayal was an extremely accurate representation of who Gehrig truly was. That’s not to say that Gehrig was perfect. He was a timid momma’s boy that didn’t mesh all that well with outgoing & gregarious teammate Babe Ruth and was caught in the middle of a lifelong tug-of-war between his mother and his wife that many more…forceful…men might have put the kibosh on pretty quick. But hey…we all have our issues, right?? The best endorsement I can give this book is that I am a lifelong hater of everything NY Yankees and because of the movie and this book I actually respect Lou Gehrig. You will too.

 

Joe DiMaggio : The Hero’s Life

dimaggio08_1_41Another Yankee?? Hmmm…maybe it’s just the modern day Yankees that I hate. If I had been around 60 years ago I might actually be a Yankee fan. Anyway, I remember when this biography came out about 13 years ago it was pretty controversial. Joltin’ Joe had always been a national treasure…a hero to Italian Americans, the apple of every girl’s eye, and the envy of every red-blooded male because of his graceful athletic skill and later his marriage to goddess Marilyn Monroe. Even in retirement he became the folksy pitchman for Mr. Coffee in the 1970’s & 80’s. But author Richard Ben Cramer lays waste to the DiMaggio mythos and exposes our hero as being yet another very flawed individual (I’m sensing a theme). The DiMaggio we read about here is an often petty, usually vain, sometimes bitter, frequently materialistic, largely unhappy man with an overinflated ego and a suspicious nature that had a negative impact on most of his personal relationships. The Hero’s Life is a stark reminder that just because someone can run fast, hit hard, or handle a ball with deft skill doesn’t mean they are a nice person. I suppose with guys like Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Kobe Bryant, & Alex Rodriguez around we are all well aware of that fact, but it is interesting to realize that such phonies have been around for many many decades and fascinating to compare & contrast how joe-dimaggiotechnology doesn’t allow such individuals to hide their hypocrisy too well these days, whereas in DiMaggio’s time he & a complicit media were quite successful in creating a graceful, classy, refined image. Some may think Cramer’s book to be harsh or even malicious, but I generally found it to be insightful & fair. It is most definitely a page turner and a must read for every baseball fan.

To Kill A Mockingbird

It has been said that everyone has a book inside them. I’m not sure who said it, and I don’t know if it is all that true, though I have always felt it to be so for me. Of course we live in a world now where lots of folks want to be famous, and even more want to be rich, and therefore they are always looking for ways to make that happen. I suppose writing a book is just as good of an option as any, and maybe even better than most (for example doing “reality TV” or making a sex tape). However, there are a couple of perils. First of all, our bookstores become polluted with crap that it is difficult to believe was ever published in the first place (much like the plethora of asinine television shows & movies that should have never been greenlighted). Secondly, authors who achieve success right out of the gate are encouraged to write more, oftentimes with specious results. Sometimes it really is better to quit while you are ahead.

 

In the annals of one hit wonders I think most folks would agree that author Harper Lee ranks right up there with Soft Cell, Mark Hamill, John Adams, and Dexys Midnight Runners. I am tempted to say that it is a shame that she only wrote one novel, but when that one novel is the Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill A Mockingbird then there is really nothing left to prove and nowhere to go but downhill.

 

Though they really aren’t all that similar it occurs to me that Mockingbird and the previous novel we examined…Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine…have a few things in common. They both take place in the same general era…Mockingbird in the mid-1930’s in the midst of The Great Depression, Dandelion Wine in 1928 just before the Depression. Both are set in a sleepy small town, the kind that we wax nostalgic about in 21st century America. And both have children as the main protagonists, allowing the story to be told thru the eyes of a child and therefore necessitating an accessible writing style without sacrificing literary elegance. But the comparisons end there.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an unflinching look at racism in the early 20th century, and though it is at times uncomfortable (especially when observed thru the politically correct prism that has almost become the standard in modern times) there is such an easygoing innocence from the point-of-view of the narrator that the rough edges seem much more palatable.

 

The story is about the Finch family in Maycomb, Alabama. There is the narrator…9 year old Jean Louise, nicknamed Scout…her older brother Jem…and their widowed father Atticus, a wise, even-tempered lawyer with a strong sense of morality. Scout & Jem spend their days in school and their evenings & summertime playing and hanging out with a neighbor boy named Dill. Scout, Jem, & Dill become obsessed with a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley who for many years has been the subject of rumors painting him as some kind of freaky monster and hasn’t been seen by anyone since he was a teenager. Meanwhile, Atticus takes on the case of Tom Robinson, a poor black man accused of raping his white female neighbor Mayella Ewell. Robinson’s trial is a major event in Maycomb, and it exposes the children to the racist outlook of a town that they had heretofore only known to be filled with friendly neighbors & schoolmates. Eventually the two storylines intersect, although if you want to know how you’ll just have to read the book.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an important book. I wouldn’t hesitate to place it in the mix with The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the works of Shakespeare & Dickens, and The Holy Bible as one of the most significant things ever written. That will sound like hyperbole only to those who have not had the pleasure of reading it. It embodies a time, a place, and an attitude that we still haven’t completely laid to rest. Yes we have made remarkable strides, but we cannot truthfully say that racism no longer exists. They may be fewer in number, but there are still people with an “us and them” outlook. The difference between now & then is that we are fully aware that it is wrong. To a certain extent the racism in Mockingbird is portrayed in such a matter-of-fact way that we can conclude that many folks back then didn’t realize how wrong they were. It was the way it was. There was a hierarchy and everyone had their place and played their proper role in society. Even the ethical hero of the book Atticus Finch employs a black housekeeper, something that we see today as a racial stereotype. When reading a story like this we are forced to confront our own views and one wonders how various people have been impacted as society has evolved over the past few decades.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic 1962 film based on the book and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Like most movies based on books there are some minor characters left out and substantial subplots that are shortchanged or eliminated, but overall it is a faithful adaptation and quality production.  As usual in these cases I strongly caution against skipping the book in favor of just watching the movie. The book is an almost breezy read, which is surprising given its gravitas. If you haven’t read it you really should. God knows it’s better than watching The Bachelor or anything starring a Kardashian.