Criticism. Tool or Vice?

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Most know of the tale of Abraham Lincoln’s response to the disobedience of a General in the Civil War as portrayed by Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and Influence people.

This is what Lincoln wrote:

“I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”

The General had Lee in his reach, his company was trapped and they had to wait for the reservoir to drain before they could cross the river. I don’t believe anyone would have responded differently.

The lesson learnt from this is not that of the letter, it is what he did with the letter. He never sent it. It was found among his writings after his death.

If there’s anything anyone can take away from this, it must be the tenet by which Lincoln lived. As a young man he was notorious in his methods of reacting on emotional impulse, yet as a husband, a president, and a leader he was never found criticizing anyone.

How can you apply this method in your dealings with your children, colleagues, employees, or your spouse?