My dad and one of his favorite books / Cindy La Ferle
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The older I get, the more I appreciate the advice my late father tried to impart when I was a snarky teenager.
At the time, Dad admired the work of Dale Carnegie, one of America’s most prolific authors of self-improvement guides. He kept a well-thumbed copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People next to the chair where he read nightly, and often quoted favorite maxims from the book, such as, “If you want to gather honey, don't kick over the beehive.”
|Principle #1: "Don't criticize, condemn, or complain"|
Copyrighted in 1936, the book was often touted as required reading for anyone seeking success in all areas of life -- and has sustained impressive sales figures ever since.
Social skills were essential to both of my parents, and I was taught to write thank-you notes as soon as I could hold a crayon. But they also believed, as Carnegie did, that behaving with "class" had nothing to do with wealth or social status -- and everything to do with your level of respect for other people.
Whenever I acted as if I'd been "brought up in a barn" -- as my Scottish grandparents would say when I misbehaved -- my father waved his copy of Carnegie’s bestseller under my nose and urged me to read it. At 15, however, I thought Carnegie was a hopeless cornball, and I left his book unread for years.
People skills 101
All of this came tumbling back recently in a bookstore, where I noticed a display featuring a special gift edition of How to Win Friends, complete with a fancy faux-leather cover. Pausing to read a few paragraphs, I was surprised at the sheer resonance of Carnegie’s advice.
It occurred to me -- given the current era of nasty politics and uncivil social media -- that it might be time to revisit this classic.
The book describes the basic tenets of civility that seem to have gone the way of rotary phones and bone china tea cups. In the aisle at the bookstore, I found myself nodding in agreement with those corny, old-fashioned principles – principles such as treating everyone with courtesy, refraining from self-absorbed behavior, listening carefully, expressing sincere interest in others, and being quicker to encourage than to criticize -- to name just a few.
In his introduction, Carnegie explained that he wrote the guide to fill a need. After conducting a series of classes in public speaking, he realized “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.” As Carnegie theorized, success in any sort of undertaking doesn’t always hinge on a person’s accomplishments or skills.
“Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you will face,” he warned. When he couldn’t find a practical textbook on the subject, Carnegie drafted one himself, not realizing that he was also launching a movement.
Better public relations
My father died suddenly in 1992, and I wish I’d taken time to thank him for insisting that tact and kindness are tools of strength, not weakness. At times I fall short -- and could use a swift review of Carnegie’s principles.
I can’t help but wonder, too, what Dad would say if he were here to observe our "selfie" culture today.
What would he think of the social media users who hurl online insults at their friends or brag about themselves non-stop? What would he think of the combative political leaders who behave like toddlers on a playground? Or the folks who routinely check their cell phones at the dinner table? And what about the boors who think it's uncool to say "I'm sorry" when they make a mistake, or unnecessary to express thanks when they receive a gift or a favor?
I can’t answer for my father, of course. But given the chance, I’d suggest they all run out and buy a copy of Mr. Carnegie’s book. ~Cindy La Ferle