Monday, December 9, 2013

Lincoln's Ways to Calm Down and Be Positive

Photo: Allan Pinkerton, Lincoln, and Major General John A. McClernand at the Antietam Battlefield, from the massive Library of Congress Collection, at this link:

After I saw Spielberg's Lincoln, I bought Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals.  This is a truly impressive and eye-opening chronicle of Lincoln's early years, his early business, his early law firm--and his early defeats when running for public office.  It is an incredibly dense book, as tons of things happen, or are learned, seemingly on every page.  This is why I'm just on page 548 after quite awhile reading it.  I'm a very fast reader, but there's too much here--and too much to be impressed by.  I recommend the book very highly, and I'll post a review when I'm done with it.

One of the facets of Lincoln's personality that I find incredible was his ability to think first and act second.  A man with tons of early defeats, at business, at law, and at running for public office, and a man who had to lead the country through the Civil War (it's clear to me now that the Civil War would have happened even if Lincoln had never been born), and a man who lost three sons while they were all very young, and who had to deal with a depressive (possibly manic-depressive) wife, and possibly his own depression: well, if anyone had a right to be angry and depressed, it was this man.  But this book makes it clear that, despite some very depressive times (Who wouldn't be somber, and look it, after going through all this?), Lincoln had a way of staying emotionally buoyant, of somehow not letting his sadness or frustration effect his presidential decisions.  His cabinet (except for Chase) very obviously loved him, and that says a lot, as they were a [see title].  So what was it about his personality that they all loved, that they were all impressed by?

1.  When angry at one of his generals--which he frequently had occasion to be, especially at McClellan, Meade, Burnside and Hooker--he wrote a letter to him, put it aside, and either never mailed it, or had one of his team of rivals look at it to edit it and tone it down.  This is one of the reasons he wanted people who would frequently disagree with him, for moments such as those.

So: Don't act out in anger or in sadness.  And if you must act at that moment, defer to your assistants and friends.

2.  When sad, he went to Seward's house, or to the telegraph office at the White House, or to the office / bedroom of his assistants in the White House--even at three in the morning.  In other words, when sad, he sought out his friends, and he relaxed with them and spoke with them, often telling funny stories that he was famous for.  (I never would have known that without the movie and book; my impression of him was that he was a serious, somber and sad man, always.  I'll bet this was everyone's common perception of him.  Turns out, we would all be wrong.  And, he didn't have a deep, sonorous voice.  I'm actually shocked by that.)  One caveat: the fact that he was the President certainly helped with this behavior.  One does not tell the President of the United States to stop telling amusing anecdotes, or to stop reading Shakespeare or the era's funnymen, while sitting at the edge of your bed, and to get the hell out of your room, at three in the morning.

So: When sad or lonely, seek out friends.  At any time of day.  True friends will tell you to call them if you need them, at any time.  And true friends will mean it.

3.  When sad, he left the company of sad people.  He did the best he could with his wife, but he did not seek her out when he was sad, angry or frustrated.  Why?  Because she wouldn't have been able to help him.  And he did not visit Chase, which upset him, but instead went to see Seward, who was a much more entertaining and pleasant person.

So: Do not spend a lot of time with sad, negative or angry curmudgeons.  They will only bring you down.

These are three very simple, very logical things, but they are amazingly hard to do, especially the first one.  But Lincoln clearly knew he was a person prone to sadness and misery, and he took steps to do something about it, and to not let this part of his personality, or the severely depressing parts of his life, to control him.

We should all be so wise.

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