Although much of America will get a modest reprieve from campaign season in 2019, with the midterms now history and the presidential race not until 2020, there will be no rest for the weary here in Louisiana. The coming year will include a governor’s race and contests for other statewide offices, along with legislative races, too.
That will mean a lot of politicians talking and tweeting, often saying things they shouldn’t. All of this has us thinking of a small exercise in restraint practiced by Abraham Lincoln — and what it might teach leaders in Louisiana and elsewhere about the power of thinking a bit more before you lash out.
Lincoln has a starring role in “Leadership in Turbulent Times,” a new bestseller by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin about how a handful of presidents, including Lincoln, handled tough challenges.
“When angry at a colleague,” Goodwin tells readers, “Lincoln would fling off what he called a ‘hot’ letter, releasing all his pent wrath. He would then put the letter aside until he cooled down and could attend the matter with a clearer eye. When Lincoln’s papers were opened at the turn of the twentieth century, historians discovered a raft of such letters, with Lincoln’s notation underneath: “’never sent and never signed.’”
Lincoln often thought it wise not to express every frustration or unkind thought publicly. He urged those around him to embrace the same kind of discipline. After his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, spent two days crafting a blistering letter to a general, Lincoln advised him to throw it in the trash. “You feel better now,” Lincoln told him. “That is all that is necessary. Just throw it in the basket.”
Stanton took his commander-in-chief’s advice. Many of us would benefit from embracing Lincoln’s philosophy, too.
Of course, the world has changed a lot since Lincoln’s day. Tweets and other forms of social media allow us to express ourselves much more quickly – and to far larger audiences – than a letter crafted with pen and paper. Modern methods of communication make it all too easy for messages to fly around the world before the sender has truly considered the consequences of his message.
The temptation to voice anger instantly is much greater than in Lincoln’s time. Even so, his prudent example is worth keeping in mind as another round of campaigning gets under way.
Considering what today’s political culture has become, Louisiana and the rest of the nation would fare a lot better if more of us marked our vitriol as Lincoln once did — “never sent.”