How to Stop Worrying and Influence People–Ecclesiastes 1:12-15

Dale Carnegie had it all figured out. To “win friends and influence people,” you need to follow a few simple steps. Then, to “stop worrying and start living,” you do a few other things. Millions of people read Carnegie’s books that promised how to do these two things, and many of them found a certain measure of wisdom and success in their pages.

There’s the story of the man who was digging ditches on a county chain gang and happened upon the first Carnegie best-seller. That man, after applying the principles in those chapters, promptly became the president of the third largest railroad in the United States.

Okay, I made up that example, but, dating back to when Carnegie first started making a name for himself teaching public-speaking courses in New York YMCAs, he presented testimonials that were similarly dramatic. Dale Carnegie, it seems, never read Ecclesiastes:

I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to examine and explore through wisdom all that is done under heaven. God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied. I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted. —Ecclesiastes 1:12-15

Our world is full of people who have applied their minds to examine and explore all of the matters of this world. Let’s look at a few who were contemporaries with Dale Carnegie.

  • Sigmund Freud, as the father of much psychology, aimed to plumb the depths of the human mind and help people deal with such matters better.
  • Charles Atlas, the great comic-book advertised seller of a fitness program, tried to turn 98-pound weaklings into strapping specimens of health.
  • Benjamin Graham, author of The Intelligent Investor, developed and detailed the “value-investment” system that lies behind the success of Warren Buffet.
  • Henry Ford, the great mass-producer of automobiles, revolutionized the way that much of life in the world is lived both through his innovations in industry and his popularization of cars.

I could go on, but these four will suffice. And they have one thing in common. They’re all dead. While their “under heaven” wisdom still influences life today, it is ultimately a pointless thing, a thing God has given people “to keep them occupied.”

Wait, is that right? Is all this “under the sun” wisdom just the divine equivalent of magazines in a doctor’s waiting room? Although it isn’t stated explicitly, this idea is embedded in Genesis 3:17-19 when God consigns Adam to eat by the sweat of his brow. Essentially, God seems to allow us, after we have turned from him, to seek our own way and discover how poorly that works.

Don’t think that I don’t appreciate the “under heaven” wisdom builders. Whether we know it or not, Graham and Ford, plus many others, have helped to create the prosperous world that we enjoy today. But if wisdom is restricted to that which is under heaven, then it is temporary and ultimately futile. If our prosperous world is the best outcome of our prosperous world, then life is, as Koheleth would say, futile.

Want to know How to Stop Worrying and Start Living? There’s an answer, but Dale Carnegie apparently didn’t know it.