I’m back. I’ve spent the last couple of days visiting my folks and checking out some mom and pop bookstores. It’s my hope to find some speaking opportunities to promote my forthcoming book, River of January, and perhaps sell a few.
Again, I have posted Lincoln’s picture as I did in my last post, because today is our 16th President’s 206th birthday. I like Lincoln. A lot. I am what one would call a “Lincoln-ista.” As I write, my standup cardboard Lincoln is presiding over the dining room table. It is after all his birthday!
A life lesson Mr. Lincoln seemed to apply frequently was understanding other points of view. He and his wife were both born in the border state of Kentucky. Slavery was legal in Kentucky until the Thirteenth Amendment abolished the practice. Lincoln understood the mindset of slave owners, he grew up among them. He knew the agricultural imperative of forced labor and the violent defense by planters who would lose their customary way of life. However, Lincoln disapproved of slavery. To him the issue was not only a moral one, but an economic wrong as well. He believed all men should enjoy the fruits of their own labor. Still Lincoln didn’t point fingers and shrilly condemn his Southern brethren–that would have been foolish and frankly unLincoln-like.
Lincoln tended to avoid resentments and harsh judgements. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rival’s recounts an incident where Lincoln was to represent a railroad company in a Chicago trial. When he arrived to court, Lincoln found he had been fired and a “real lawyer,” Edwin M. Stanton was arguing for the company. Stanton made a snide comment about Lincoln’s crude and hayseed appearance within his hearing. Still, Lincoln remained in court as an observer, believing he could learn something from a Harvard trained attorney. Later, Lincoln made Stanton his Secretary of War. No offense taken, so none festered. As a member of the Cabinet, Stanton became deeply devoted to this uniquely principled president.
Now how does an examination of two qualities in President Lincoln have anything to do with my book? Well, more than you might think. Though Chum never had the stomach for unjustifiable character attacks, he didn’t waste his energy holding resentments. From my time in his company he never, ever gossiped or spoke badly of anyone that I can remember. His only remark close to snide, was the time he said Howard Hughes kept the Kleenex business booming. (Anyone who’s seen the DiCaprio movie understands). Helen however, seemed to be able to take criticism well. It was a must, a part of the business. She was a performer and required to stay sharp. From my study of her letters, Helen often attended other productions to see what she was up against as an artist. If she read poor reviews the girl took it in stride and learned. She improved her skills.
I, too would love to be free of resentments and to see the other person’s viewpoint without spite. Society is a collection of individuals with limitless opinions on limitless subjects. Believing that we are all absolutely right, and refuse to hear otherwise, does little in the way of progress. Chum didn’t let the obstacles of his time and place discourage him. Instead he was polite, courteous, and left the naysayers behind. Helen saw opportunity in adversity. She tenaciously used criticism and competition as guideposts to her success.
Not one among us have the market cornered on truth. But, as Lincoln knew, self righteous blowhards who refuse to bend, eventually break.