I can remember when first encountering How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, because it was a transitional month in my life. It was May of 1945, and my father had a new job repairing B-17s at the Fairchild army air base near Spokane, Washington. Although both I and my father had been born in Spokane, our family had been living in Burlingame, California for the previous year.
What was so memorable was that my father bought Carnegie’s book and read chapters of it, perhaps the whole thing, to me and my mother while we were living in a motel for the month. He often read books to us when we were spending evenings in remote places. That month he purchased our new home at 3425 Park Boulevard, but for this particular May I attended Franklin elementary school, 4th grade. I had the same school teacher my father had had when he was a child some 22 years earlier. I remember a snowball fight in that schoolyard, where the boys put rocks in the snowballs – “very funny” – to see a kid get hit by one of those stonies. I remember clearly the school principle coming into our classroom and telling us that President Roosevelt had just died and soon everyone was grief-stricken and crying.
Because our family was reading that book, and I was in a new school for me, my dad wanted me to remember all the kids’ names – it is principle # 3 – and he would ask me their names when I got home to the motel. If ever I had an adolescent rebellion it was at that time; it was a reaction against Dale Carnegie and that book. I remember being disgusted at the manipulative tenor of the book – be nice to people so you can manipulate them and “Win” them and “Influence” them to your will. It seemed it was a tricky way of manipulating others against their conscious will. To me it felt dishonest and being dishonest with one’s friends is the most despicable thing a person can do.
When these thoughts were brought back into awareness, while writing this post, it became apparent that those events were seared into my being more than I have ever realized. It is the reason I have been so ambivalent to a usual rendering of The Golden Rule, “Be nice to people and they will be nice to you.” It strikes me as consciously manipulative of other people and I have a strange need that other people be totally free. We are already so bound up in our own habits that we are already slaves, and it greatly annoys me to see anyone further limited by outside conscious manipulations. I believe in personal integrity, which means to me, to be regulated by one’s own internalized sense of responsibility. Carnegie covers his manipulations under a lovely sugar coating of sweet words but under the coating there is fraud and resultant hypocrisy.
Recently I have been blogging about “kindness,” which has some similarities to what Carnegie writes about, but there is a difference, and the difference makes a tremendous difference. Both Carnegie’s methods and my intended applications of kindness require paying close attention to the other person and their needs, but his are personally acquisitive and in a subtle way taking something valuable from the other person. Kindness is just the opposite, it requires understanding what the other person needs to make their life more abundant and helping them to fulfill of their personal potential by giving a kind word or doing a kind deed which guides them more securely onto their personal path. It is clear and obvious when the kind action is performed, but ideally it is such a tiny thing that the recipient of the kindness feels not the slightest need to reciprocate. Kindness isn’t an economic transaction, it is a gift, and there is absolutely no repayment coming back from the other person.
There is a personal payoff however, but it is totally between you and yourself. When you purposefully develop the social graces of being polite, honest and giving to other people you develop those as habits, and habits soon become automatic and you are unconscious of doing them. It isn’t too difficult to develop better and kinder ways of relating to other people, but it is almost impossible to develop better ways of relating to one’s own self. The reason is because your habits are much quicker than your conscious mental processes and they are directing your inner behavior, not your conscious self. By cultivating intentional kindness towards others you develop the habit of being kind to yourself and when you are kind to yourself you become a much happier person.
Learn to be kind to your self and you will become a contented being.