Today, it seems the world has become a nasty concoction of finger pointing, criticism and dislike for our fellow human beings. But the current climate is not unique.
It was a lot like that in the 1860s too, when the United States was embroiled in the Civil War. American President Abraham Lincoln was in the middle of it – abused, criticized, looked down upon, and pulled in every direction possible. In the war years, the turmoil aged Lincoln considerably and almost broke him.
But Abraham Lincoln’s ingenious management of criticism would help save not only his own ability to cope, but America itself. Today, we can learn from Lincoln’s relentless patience and leadership skills, to turn criticism upside down, so that it works for us, not against us.
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.”
Lincoln was prepared to accept criticism knowing it was impossible to please everyone all of the time. He viewed criticism as a natural consequence of living your values. It’s unavoidable. To Lincoln, it was more important to stay true to what you believed, than to win at all cost. It’s one of the primary reasons history has looked upon him with such great admiration. Today, we must ask ourselves what guides our decisions. Is it the views and the criticisms of other people, or is it our own core beliefs and values? One leads to indecision and chaos, the other garners respect.
“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”
Lincoln worked closely with many people who didn’t like him, or were highly critical of him. It didn’t much matter to the President. As long as those he sought advice from had the same objectives as he did and whose heart was in the right place – they could criticize all they wanted. Today – criticism is rampant and serves to divide. But can we see it the way Lincoln did – not as a barrier, but as something from which we can learn, and as necessary, something which takes a backseat to the more important priority of working together for a common cause?
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
When someone is highly critical of us, it’s often because they can’t see our perspective. Rather than getting angry and blaming those who didn’t see eye to eye with him, Lincoln would listen to their arguments and then share his perspective. He did so with Frederick Douglass, the most prominent black leader of the time and a huge critic of Lincoln. When he first met Lincoln at the White House, Douglass was expecting the President to give him a blast. Instead, Lincoln (who knew all about Douglass’s harsh criticisms) was interested in listening to Douglass and why he felt the way he did. Douglass didn’t get his way (he wanted Lincoln to drop a bizarre plan to ship all black people out of the U.S. to foreign lands) but he would later say that he saw the pain on Lincoln’s face and sensed his sincerity. Before we slam others, or take a knee-jerk reaction to the slightest perceived injustice, let us take the time to meet accusers and fully understand their plight.