Publisher’s Easter Message: Don’t End up Like Napoleon Who Said, ‘I Have Never Known 6 Happy Days in My Life’

April 13, 2009
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By Peter Bennett


Saint Joan of Arc

Saint Joan of Arc

“The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated,” said psychologist William James. In “Capital of the World,” Ernest Hemingway describes how deep-seated this need is. In Hemingway’s story, a father searches in vain for his son Paco who has run away from home.  As a last resort, the broken-hearted father places a newspaper ad with the words, “All is forgiven, Papa,” asking his son to meet him at noon the next day in front of the Madrid newspaper office. The next day, 800 young men named Paco were waiting.

People need people. People need God. People need relationships to stay and feel alive. Biblical scholars understood this most elemental need for relationships. Moses was given hundreds of commandments. The first 10 all dealt with relationships. You’ve heard these moral imperatives many times, for instance, “You shall not kill,” “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” to name a few. To get along in this world, you can’t live on the Ark forever. You can’t live as a castaway forever. Even Sierra Club founder John Muir had to walk out of the wilderness from time to time. To take the farthest journey in life, you need a team of people to help you go where you want to go, whether you aspire to fly to the moon, climb Mt. Everest or be the first to fly over the South Pole. In his autobiography “Alone,” which describes his five months alone operating an advance station deep in Antarctica, Admiral Richard E. Byrd wrote: “… this book is called ‘Alone,’ but obviously no one man can could have done what I did without the loyal and sympathetic support of many other men.”

Shouldering the Load

Even if you’re smarter than everyone else on the planet, you have to trust the contributions and believe in the value of other human beings. “If I have been able to see further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants,” said Isaac Newton, a revolutionary thinker in the areas of mechanics, optics, mathematics and gravitation. One of those shoulders on which he stood was Johannes Kepler, who was the first to explain planetary motion and how to correct nearsightedness and farsightedness with eyeglasses. He also lent further proof to Copernicus’ heliocentric cosmology that placed the sun, not the earth, at the center of our solar system. But again, he knew this revolutionary idea needed broader support if it were ever to become ascendant. In a note to Galileo, he wrote, “Would it not be much better to pull the wagon to its goal by our joint efforts now that we have it underway, and gradually with powerful voices, to shout down the common herd, which really does not weigh the arguments very carefully.”

Calling for a joint effort was not lost on Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s foremost statesmen and relationship-builders, who reportedly said to John Hancock at the signing of the treasonous Declaration of Independence in 1776, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Figuratively speaking, Napoleon hanged separately in 1821. Blinded by ambition that drove him to glory, power and riches, the broken little emperor was finally banished to St. Helena by his enemies whereupon he reportedly said, “I have never known six happy days in my life.” He had exhausted both his fortune and his friends.

In every phase of life, maintaining healthy relationships is the key to survival and success. Walt Disney may have dreamed up Mickey Mouse, but he had his partner, Ub Iwerks, a vastly more skilled graphic artist, design the cartoon character. Look at your own body. It is literally the embodiment of this law of connectivity. Your organs, muscles, tissues, blood and bones work together in a perpetual symphony to keep you healthy. When surgeons have to intervene to correct a disorder, those who work with experienced teams have the highest rates of success. When patients require surgery, they shouldn’t ask for the most skilled surgeon, but the rather the best surgical team.  

Maintaining a healthy relationship with its customers is critical to successful retailers like Trader Joe’s. Whenever it distributes its “Fearless Flyer” mailer, which promotes the company’s healthy, tasty products in a casual, folksy way, sales surge, proving that its customers are just as hungry for relationships and communication as they are for quality food.

To survive and thrive in this world and reach your full potential, you have to reach out to other people. Expression kills depression. So start connecting with others by making a small attitude adjustment. Reveal, don’t conceal. Confess, don’t repress. But express, reveal or confess what? Let the Golden Rule guide you. Simply treat others the way you want to be treated. Do you like feeling good about yourself? Then make others feel good about themselves. Do you like hearing someone greet you by your first name when you’re walking down the street or standing in line at the checkout? Beat ‘em to the punch. Even if you’ve never been to a particular restaurant before, tell the maître d, “It’s good to see you again!” If you address your host by name, you might get an even better table. The most powerful word in any language, after all, is a person’s name. When you use it, you start every relationship off with a 10.   

Connect, Don’t Correct

Of course, you’re going to have to suppress your ego and self-centeredness to spark this new positive persona. That means changing your me-first thinking. At your next gathering, aim to be the most interested, not the most interesting, person in the room. Similarly, seek to understand, not to be understood. Instead of trying so hard to put others in their place, put yourself in their place. Connect, don’t correct. Simply listen and you’ll glisten in the eyes of the person you’re listening to. Talking is sharing, as the saw goes, but listening is caring. Even if you have past history on the people you’re listening to, and it’s not flattering, fight the compulsion to tune them out. After all, caterpillars change into beautiful butterflies. Contribute to that transformation.

From time to time, you read news accounts of loners who have lain dead for more than a year in their home without discovery. Then there’s the urban legend about the office worker who sat dead in his cubicle for a week without anyone noticing or caring. The story of the office worker gained a foothold in our popular culture because the sad truth is so few people reach out to other people anymore, especially if they’re different from us. Too many of us suffer from “I” trouble, the inability to focus on the needs of other people.  

This me-instead-of-we approach can have devastating consequences. When Leland Stanford, dressed like a common ranch-hand, tried to donate $100,000 to Harvard University, his alma mater, he was kept waiting and treated rudely. Upset by the Harvard’s cavalier attitude, the ex-governor and railroad builder withheld his donation and used it as seed money, along with other holdings in Palo Alto, Calif., to start his own university named after his son, Leland Stanford University, Jr. More than a century later, Stanford is regarded as one of the world premier institutions of higher learning. Yet the lessons of humility have not always been remembered by Stanford’s students. In a Wall Street Journal survey measuring the quality of MBA programs, Stanford was taken down a peg or two in the ratings, not because its students weren’t brilliant, but because some in its program had expressed a sense of me-first entitlement that had put off top recruiters. Pretentiousness propels and authenticity attracts, and unfortunately, the students, despite their academic gifts, didn’t know the difference.

Instead of showing a sense of superiority, relationship builders and networkers invest their good sense in praising others. There’s no cost for this praise, but it can create abundant goodwill that you may have to call on someday. Victorian England benefited from the extraordinary talents of two able, but rival prime ministers, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. A lady had the good fortune of dining with each man on successive nights. Asked for her impression of Gladstone, she said, “I thought he was the cleverest man in England.” As for her impression of Disraeli, she replied, “He made feel as though I was the cleverest woman in England.” Which relationship do you think she valued more?

Complete, Don’t Compete

Great relationship builders always put others first. Joan of Arc who helped drive the English out of France after England’s century-long occupation knelt and prayed each time she heard the church bell toll in her village — her submission to a higher authority a reminder that the world did not revolve around her despite the critical nature of her mission. She was a servant, nothing more. Outstanding leaders display these same characteristics. They don’t take relationships for granted. They don’t worry who gets the credit. In fact, they understand the importance of delegating  authority to develop their subordinates; that doing it yourself doesn’t mean doing it alone. They build their teams by completing, not competing, through cooperation, not confrontation.

Again, for relationships to take root in your own life, you don’t have to undergo a total transformation. Start with little stuff and keep making adjustments. Practice liking people again. Introduce a smile into your next conversation. Return phone calls and emails. When the moment is appropriate, say, “I’m sorry” and “I love you,” instead of the Twitter-like shortcuts, “Sorry” or “Love You,” which sound as if you only half mean what you say. Say “please” and “welcome,” and extend other common courtesies that show you respect others. Watch what comes out of your mouth, as well. As the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau illustrates, words once issued cannot be taken back. A blessing once issued cannot be reclaimed. Disagree without being disagreeable. If you’re abrasive, you’ll be less persuasive. Use helpful words, not harmful ones. If you’re mad, count to 10. If you’re really mad, count to 100. If you feel like smashing someone, walk away. Like a good waiter, serve, don’t sell. Like a good coach, critique, don’t’ criticize.

Not all relationships, of course, will be of your own making or choosing. Instead of shrinking from these unwanted partnerships, engage in them. Lincoln’s administration was bolstered by a team of rivals. Politicians know better than most that to succeed, you hold your friends close and your enemies closer. To help get his stimulus package passed, President Obama invited his Republican opponents for cocktails at the White House. Not that it did much good or changed any minds, but he extended the courtesy in the spirit of bipartisanship and set a civil tone for discussion. By extending an olive branch, he gained cover for his agenda. Practicing inclusion instead of exclusion is a way to extend new ideas to the most unbending heart. Once a mind has been stretched, it cannot return to its original shape. Attila, the fearsome Hun leader and warrior, said, “A king with chieftains who always agree with him reaps the counsel of mediocrity.”

It’s the Who, not the What

When strong individuals blend their talents, the resulting relationship becomes a powerful and positive force for growth. When William Hewlett and David Packard both graduated with electrical engineering degrees from Stanford University in 1935, they didn’t care what they made as long as their products benefited society and they were able to continue working together. As they made transmitters, air conditioning control devices, phonographic amplifiers and other devices, they attracted other like-minded people to HP, but their employees were like-minded only in the sense they were filled with the same creativity, wonder, energy and enthusiasm as the founders. In building their company, they understood better than most that taking care of “the who” will take care of “the what.” Their teams consisted of go-givers, not go-getters, of people who recognized that you achieve more when you work together.

On the last day of your life, you won’t be thinking about your ritzy car,  expensive art collection or all the songs you’ve downloaded to your MP3 player. You’ll be thinking about relationships, the ones you had and the ones you wish you had made. So start polishing your existing relationships now and remove the tarnish that’s accumulated. As you circulate, you’ll percolate. Make your guests always feel welcome. Judge your success not by the money in your bank account, but by the friends you keep. Essayist, poet and author Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The ornaments of our life are the friends who frequent it.”

When you reach out, renewing old acquaintances and forging new ones, you’ll really be helping yourself. In business as your network grows, your net worth will grow. Keep your net working by investing time, energy and commitment to it. Keep things fresh. Be an original. For example, drop your spouse an unexpected love letter in the mail. Use even the most mundane communications to add a little spice and individuality to each relationship, such as “I hope this note finds you well,” or “Keep up the good work.”

Express sensitivity, not sentiment. When Hemingway was a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star, he devoured the AP stylebook, part of which read: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English, not forgetting to strive for smoothness. Be positive, not negative.” To that list could also have been added “humor,” which is often called the “shortest distance between two people.” To put a potentially hostile audience at ease, the conservative Reagan once said, “Please assure me you’re all Republicans.” As the great communicator, he also understood the art of a great speech features a great opening, a great close and the ability to put the two together as quickly as possible.

You have all the tools to be a great communicator and relationship builder. You have to want it though, and also be smart enough to understand that it’s not the world’s job to make you happy.  Rather, to get along on this Earth, you have to observe a more universal truth: “The more you give, the more you receive. And that’s what relationships are all about!

One Response to “Publisher’s Easter Message: Don’t End up Like Napoleon Who Said, ‘I Have Never Known 6 Happy Days in My Life’”

  1. Hello….Great article, alot of advice and sincerity expressed! Thanks for sharing.

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