Lincoln's Most Inspired Solutions to Challenging Problems and Difficult Situations What Would Lincoln Do? is a fun and insightful guide to common problems people face and how the Great Emanicaptor would tackle them.
Using actual tactics Lincoln recorded in his letters and speeches, readers will learn how to:
Deal with unpleasant coworkers
Give advice to a close friend without hurting his feelings
Say no to a relative's request for a loan
Respond to unfair rumors and accusations at the office
Clear the air after an argument
Stand your ground in difficult circumstances
Inspire the people around you
How much easier would it be to tackle your everyday problems if you could have Lincoln advising you? What Would Lincoln Do? is a must-have guide for Lincoln fans and anyone wishing to benefit from the advice from one of history's top leaders.
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Chapter 1: Responding to Rumors
How do you respond to someone who threatens to spread damaging information about you? Lincoln faced that dilemma in 1836 when he was just twenty-seven years old and running for reelection to his seat in the Illinois state legislature. Colonel Robert Allen, a political opponent, began telling voters that he had dirt on Lincoln, but that out of the goodness of Allen's heart, he'd decided not to tell anyone. It was a particularly devilish way to trash the reputation of the future president. Allen was saying, in effect, that Lincoln had done something wrong (either legally or morally), but Allen was too dignified to reveal the scandalous details.
Instead of getting upset and letting his emotions get out of hand - which most of us would probably do in the same situation & -Lincoln responded with class, brevity and, most of all, strength.
Letter to Colonel Robert Allen
(June 21, 1836)
I am told that during my absence last week you passed through this place, and stated publicly that you were in possession of a fact or facts which, if known to the public, would entirely destroy the prospects of N.W. Edwards and myself at the ensuing election; but that, through favour to us, you should forbear to divulge them.
No one has needed favours more than I, and, generally, few have been less unwilling to accept them; but in this case favour to me would be injustice to the public, and therefore I must beg your pardon for declining it. That I once had the confidence of the people of Sangamon, is sufficiently evident; and if I have since done anything, either by design or misadventure, which if known would subject me to a forfeiture of that confidence, he that knows of that thing, and conceals it, is a traitor to his country's interest.
I find myself wholly unable to form any conjecture of what fact or facts, real or supposed, you spoke; but my opinion of your veracity will not permit me for a moment to doubt that
you at least believed what you said. I am flattered with the personal regard you manifested for me; but I do hope that, on more mature reflection, you will view the public interest as a paramount consideration, and therefore determine to let the worst come. I here assure you that the candid statement of facts on your part, however low it may sink me, shall never break the tie of personal friendship between us.
I wish an answer to this, and you are at liberty to publish both, if you choose.
In technical terms - and I don't mean to confuse anyone here by using dense, complicated language - this is known as calling someone's bluff. Lincoln is saying, in effect: Come and get me, Allen. You want to throw dirt? Throw it. You're not going to scare me.
Let's examine why this short letter is so effective, and the lessons it can teach us about how to respond effectively - even elegantly - to threats and hostile behavior in general.
1. Lincoln didn't lose his cool. He didn't resort to name-calling or impugning Allen's character, which he had every right to do; after all, here was a man who was trying to ruin not only Lincoln's reputation, but his political career as well. But Lincoln was shrewd. Regardless of whether Allen actually had damaging information about him, he knew that if he responded in an emotionally overwrought manner, he would be playing right into his enemy's hands. Even if Lincoln was completely innocent of any bad behavior, Allen could take a letter filled with venom and anger and use it against Lincoln, either as proof that he had something to hide ("Why get so upset if you're innocent?") or that he didn't have the temperament for an important elected office ("If he flies off the handle at me, what will he do when he's faced with even bigger problems?").
No, Lincoln chose a wise path: don't give your enemies any ammunition. If a fool threatens you, make sure your reaction to the threat doesn't turn you into a fool as well.
2. Lincoln took the high road. Lincoln betrayed not one iota of anger or frustration at Allen's actions. Instead, he turned the tables on Allen by encouraging him to disclose the damaging information for the good of the people of Illinois. He took himself out of the equation altogether; it was no longer a Lincoln-Allen feud. He told his enemy, in so many words: Look, the people deserve to know what kind of man they're electing to the legislature. If you know something, tell them - it's your duty as an American. Allen might have been expecting fear or anger from Lincoln - maybe even a request to meet and make a deal. But instead, Lincoln elegantly called his bluff.
But this begs the obvious question: Did Allen really have any dirt on Lincoln? It's impossible to know. The historical record of Lincoln's early life is rather sparse. No one is perfect, and Lincoln might very well have made some mistakes in his life that he preferred to keep private. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Lincoln had certain skeletons he wanted to keep in his closet. Was there any way for him to be absolutely sure that Allen had discovered those skeletons? No. If Lincoln had secrets, maybe Allen had discovered them; maybe not. And if Lincoln didn't have any secrets to hide,
how could he have proven that he wasn't hiding anything? So at the end of the day, it didn't really matter if Allen was telling the truth. What mattered was how Lincoln responded.
3. Lincoln focused on the one thing he had control over. When you find yourself the target of unfair accusations or rumors - or even when someone is just treating you like crap for no good reason - you can't control how they choose to act. You can't force them to stop calling you bad names. Lincoln understood this. So he focused on the one thing that he did have control over: his reaction. He could have responded to Allen's despicable actions by firing off a letter filled with equally despicable language. Again, that would have played into Allen's hands, and likely escalated the situation into something far nastier (and perhaps more public).
So instead, Lincoln contrasted his behavior to Allen's. Where Allen had been scurrilous,
Lincoln would be gracious. Where Allen had been malicious, Lincoln would be respectful. He wrote the letter as if his own mother would read it. The next time you feel the urge to fire off an angry email to someone, you might try the same trick - it works.
4. He appealed to Allen's emotions. Lincoln no doubt surprised Allen by complimenting
and flattering him. Instead of lashing out in anger - which, again, might have been exactly what Allen wanted - Lincoln responded to his attacker gravely and soberly. He even played on Allen's emotions, assuring him that if he did make public what he knew (or thought he knew) about Lincoln, he would still consider himself Allen's friend. You can almost hear the violins playing in the background! But beneath this gracious and humble sentiment is a rock-solid resolve. Between the lines, Lincoln is telling Allen: I won't do what you want. I won't sink to your level by calling you names. You cannot
By responding calmly, without a trace of fear or rancor, Lincoln proved his strength. Note, too, the last line of the letter: "I wish an answer to this, and you are at liberty to publish both, if you choose." In other words, I'm not afraid of you. And if you want to show everyone this letter, go ahead. I don't care.
Elegant. Graceful. Tough as leather.
Oh, and in case you're wondering: Allen never... who, incidentally, won his bid for reelection.
Table of Contents
Part One: The Personal Sphere
Chapter 1: Responding to Rumors
Chapter 2: Clearing the Air after an Argument
Chapter 3: Turning Down a Relative's Request for Money
Chapter 4: Giving Advice to a Close Relative
Chapter 5: Handling a Sticky Situation
Chapter 6: Taking Emotion out of the Equation
Chapter 7: Encouraging and Consoling Friends
Chapter 8: Standing Your Ground in Difficult Circumstances
Chapter 9: Finding the Humanity in Your Enemies
Chapter 10: The Art of Giving Good Advice
Part Two: The Professional Sphere
Chapter 11: Communication Etiquette
Chapter 12: Leadership and Management under Fire
Chapter 13: Settling a Disagreement in the Workplace
Chapter 14: Acknowledging a Mistake
Chapter 15: Reprimanding Employees
Chapter 16: Encouraging Employees and Keeping up Morale
About the Author
David Acord has been a professional journalist and editor for more than ten years. He is currently editor-in-chief of a business publishing company in Washington, D.C. He has been a Lincoln buff for most of his adult life, and lives in Arlington, VA.