Integrity Matters
April 19, 2006

Lincoln's approach still rings true

Question: (E-235)

Dear Jim:

Can integrity play a role in improving the current global crisis of wars and international misunderstandings?


Yes. Integrity is built one action and one relationship at a time. Although turning the clock back is impossible, studying wise leaders from the past can be instructive. President Abraham Lincoln, the unsophisticated and essentially uneducated country lawyer from Illinois, possessed insights worthy of emulation, personally and professionally.

His horse-and-buggy wisdom has application in our rocket-propelled, Internet world. These excerpts and concepts came from Doris Kearns Goodwin's "The True Lincoln" from "Master of the Game":

  • Courage: Lincoln placed his three most powerful rivals onto his Cabinet, explaining he did not want to deny the nation their service.
  • Compassion: His issue was slavery, ours is immigration. He sought to understand the positions held by his opponents, avoiding condemnation. He sought to absorb their sorrows and hopes, sense their shifting moods and mold their opinion with the right words and deeds at the right time. Walking in another's shoes was never more necessary than today - nationally and internationally.
  • Humor: Using funny stories about his personal flaws broke tensions, redirected energies and enabled conflict to find resolution outside rigid thinking. Whether confronting road rage or political intolerance, developing perspective on the sameness of our feeble efforts might reduce tempers while increasing understanding.
  • Forgiveness: Lincoln behaved as if no person dedicated to making the most of life's opportunities could afford to waste time on personal contention. With the right attitude, even those with whom one might have conflicts can become part of a positive solution, if they are neither humiliated nor discarded along the way.
  • Graciousness: Lincoln took responsibility for the errors of his generals and cabinet members while enabling them to stand in the limelight, even when he had contributed heavily to their successes.
  • Perspective: Lincoln saw beyond the hard drinking of Ulysses S. Grant while appreciating the general's ability to lead a war effort. When his Secretary of State, John Seward, ignored his directive, he resolved their conflicts to prevent the nation from losing Seward's talents. He understood priorities.
  • Self-control: The 16th President wrote blunt letters to those with whom he was disappointed, but seldom mailed them. He recognized the importance of keeping lines of communication open, seeking to repair relationships before they escalated into lasting animosity.

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