I will admit, sheepishly, that this brief post is a little (or more than a little) in the self-help vein.
Call me a self-help guru.
I usually try to illustrate pieces based on my musings with examples drawn from experience. In this case, it seems to behoove me to be as general as possible without referring to actual persons except in the most general terms.
So, I will just say that my wife and I know someone whom we have had little direct contact with over the years, but whom we have to deal with rather often.
My wife and I share stories about her overbearing, imperious manner. We both find her hard to deal with, equally so.
Today, I had a brief interaction with this person. When I have to deal with her, I find myself not only reluctant to do so but intimidated beforehand.
To cut to the chase, since I don’t want to go into details, today I tried to put my best foot forward and addressed this person directly, politely when she picked up the phone. I had called her about something.
After I got off the phone, I told my wife that it seemed to go well and that it seems best when dealing with people who can be overbearing and difficult: (1) don’t be obsequious; (2) don’t waste their time; (3) be polite; (4) don’t look for trouble; (5) treat them with respect, as if they deserve it, and be as pleasant as possible.
I wonder if it may be the case that overbearing and/or obnoxious people fear that others do or won’t like them, which makes them act worse.
It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in one day cleaning wise if you put your mind to it.
I often think of what an admired former colleague of mine, Carol Boorstein, on the Communication Consulting team at The Wyatt Company once said to me: If you start cleaning, and you find something that needs to be thrown out or filed somewhere — dealt with — do not put it aside for later.
Deal it with it right then and there. No matter how trivial it seems to be. Decide what to do with it. Does it stay or go? and where should it go? No “deferred maintenance” allowed.
Has always worked for me. And, I am as dilatory, probably a lot more so, than the next person when it comes to “clutter management.”
Three months ago, I took a one week trip by train to the Midwest to attend a cultural event in Milwaukee. I had never been to the Midwest before (except for a one day business trip).
I spent time in both Milwaukee and Chicago.
I had always wanted to see Chicago. An acquaintance of mine who traveled a lot in his business career told me that it was not a particularly interesting city.
I found that it was a great place to visit. Milwaukee was less interesting, but pleasant.
Anyway, what I wish to mention in this post is that I met a fellow on the train who is in his early 40’s. We struck up a friendship over a long conversation during breakfast in the cafeteria car. We have managed since to keep in touch.
He has a day job, but has aspirations to become a writer. He is desirous of feedback from me about his writing and advice about how to start a blog.
We tried to touch base over the holidays but kept missing each other. He lives in Ohio, but he has family in New York City and visits here often.
I got a phone call from him today. During our conversation — pleasant as usual — we inquired about one another.
I told him that I was doing very well absent the usual problems that seem always to crop up in one’s life, like burdocks. You can’t be rid of them, it seems; there’s never any respite.
He laughed, in his usual good natured way. His reply was: “When you no longer have problems, you’re ready for your last ride.” He said this was how a friend of his put it.
Having problems, he said, is part of life; it means that you are ALIVE.
I loved the way he put it. “Your last ride,” to the cemetery. It may be a common expression, but I had never head it before.
Last ride. Problems are a part of life – intrinsic. Having and experiencing them mean that you are not, by the grace of God, dead.
My parents had a paperback copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People on our living room bookshelf in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I recall for some reason that the paperback was laminated (I think that is the right word) – it had a sort of plastic tissue overlay.
I made a stab at reading it when I was in the sixth grade. How to Win Friends and Influence People, I thought. I’d certainly like to know how to do that!
I remember reading a chapter which advised the reader not to talk about themselves all the time, but to show an interest in the other person. I decided to try this out on my mother.
We were gathered in the living room of an evening. I said to my mother, “So, how are you today, Mom?”
“I’m fine,” she answered.
“Tell me,” I said (or words to that effect), “How are you?”
She was nonplussed, but answered again that she was fine.
“Well, tell me about yourself,” I said.
The conversation had begun to seem a little odd to her. It went on very briefly, awkwardly, then ceased. My mother couldn’t quite figure what I was up to.
Picking up the book now, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was reminded of an experience my hero Samuel Johnson once had as a reader.
Johnson once read a book offering spiritual guidance: A Serious Call To a Devout and Holy Life by William Law. Johnson told James Boswell that he “began to read it expecting to find it a dull book (as such books generally are), and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion, after I became capable of rational inquiry.”
Well, I wasn’t sure that I should take Dale Carnegie’s book seriously either. I am suspicious of books that are so popular, and of self-help books. Which it is. And, the precepts laid down by Carnegie could be considered simplistic – they sound good, but can they really be followed? It reminds me of another book that is somewhat similar: Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.
When I read Fromm – as is the case with Carnegie now – I had a similar experience. I found myself saying over and over again to myself, “Yes, so true.” I guess what one might say is that the books are a lot more right than they are wrong, and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the many good things the authors have to say.
I do not know anything about Fromm’s background, and not that much about Carnegie’s either, but Carnegie’s precepts were grounded in experience, which perhaps accounts for their impact. And, he writes simply and clearly, a great virtue not usually observed.