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.


The Key to Happiness Is Not in Your Head

It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.

Those are the words of Dale Carnegie, the super bestselling author of How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve mentioned Carnegie a couple of times recently due to just finishing an audiobook biography of the man. The author of the book refers to Carnegie as a “Self-Help Messiah,” which, as you can imagine, really grabs my attention.

Raised by parents who espoused “stern Protestant beliefs,” a phrase that the writer throws out probably a dozen times, Carnegie leaves the farm and heads to New York City to find success. And he finds success, eventually hitting it big by teaching public speaking courses and then, in the 1930s, publishing the book mentioned above. After the Second World War, he would write another huge-selling book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Like many popular self-help writers and speakers, Carnegie has a great deal of wisdom to impart. We can do worse than to follow many of his suggestions, like taking a genuine interest in other people rather than trying to get them to take an interest in us. But that whole “messiah” thing is where I have to draw the line. To illustrate, let’s look at the quotation above.

What is important? Is it our possessions? Our knee-jerk reaction is to say, “no,” but is that really how we live? Was it how Carnegie lived? The same can be said on the other fronts that Carnegie names above. It’s not “where you are,” right? If he really believed that, then why did he leave his parents’ farm?

The power for success, Carnegie argues, here and elsewhere, is in positive thinking (to swipe Norman Vincent Peale’s phrase). You can Think Yourself Rich–to use a title of a much later book–in Carnegie’s worldview.

There is some truth to all of this. Certainly we should avoid what Zig Ziglar called “stinking thinking,” but is “what you think about” really the key to “It”? Is the answer to the great question of the universe all down to the power of the mind?

How ironic it is that Dale Carnegie, the precursor to many of the self-help gurus to come, people like Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and Oprah Winfrey, would die at the relatively young age of 67 of Alzheimer’s Disease. This man essentially put his faith in his mind, and his mind was what failed him before the rest of his body.

Carnegie apparently abandoned his parents’ “stern Protestant beliefs,” only hanging onto a fuzzy spirituality cloaked in vaguely Christian vocabulary. Essentially, he had faith in faith, which ultimately meant having faith in himself.

What matters more than what you have, who you are, or what you think is whose you are. That is the essential difference between Christianity and every humanistic ideology. And what a difference it proves to be. Want to stop worrying and start living? I have a different Messiah for you. Here’s what He said about worry:

Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? . . .  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.–Matthew 6:25, 33

Turn that Frown Upside Down!

“Smile and the world smiles with you. Frown and you frown alone.” In my grumpy teen years, my dad used to unctuously quote this old proverb to me, annoying me greatly. I think that might have been his intention.

Is there actually truth in the saying? When you smile, does the world actually smile with you? Dale Carnegie instructed his students to go out and smile at people to see what sort of results they got. His idea was that if you became known as the sort of person who was constantly smiling and happy, then you’d be the sort of person who could succeed in business and in life.

As I walk through my life, I consider smiling. Does the world smile with me when I smile? Not necessarily. They might think me loony!

My mother’s saying along these lines was “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile.” So what? I don’t find myself tired after frowning. Am I desperately attempting to conserve energy? Plus, it turns out that this saying isn’t true. Imagine that.

I bring all this up today because of the second verb in the second half of Psalm 118:24.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Look up the Hebrew verb that is translated, pretty steadily, as “be glad,” and you’ll find that it means something slightly surprising: “rejoice.” Does that mean that the verse enjoins us to “rejoice and rejoice”? Sort of, but not exactly.

Read a bit more in the Hebrew dictionary and you’ll find this. “The primary idea appears to be that of a joyful and cheerful countenance.” So basically it could say “let us rejoice and smile.”

Funny-Smile-Meme-I-Just-Like-To-Smillings-my-Favorite-PictureWe’ve all seen people who go around with a completely unnatural and inappropriate grin on their faces. The wrong smile can make a person look fairly strange. Smile for the wrong reasons and you’ll seem evil. Smile for no reason and people will take you for crazy or dishonest. The politician who can go around for weeks and months on end, smiling at a bunch of complete strangers without looking unnatural, can probably achieve something.

Of course this Psalm does not call on us to smile for no reason and it does not suggest we smile for a bad reason. The first half of the verse has set up the reason for our rejoicing and our happy expression.

How can I not be cheerful, how can I not smile when I am inhabiting the day that the Lord has made? I ask that rhetorically, because, perhaps like you, I am entirely capable of wearing that frown as my habitual expression. I suppose that’s why my parents shared their little sayings with me.

So why, if I’m living in the eternal day that the Lord made, do I not walk around smiling? The reason, of course, is that, living in the flesh, I find it far too easy to allow that knowledge of God’s control to fade out of my mind. That’s why the Psalmist brought it to his own and to our mind.

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Doesn’t that make you smile?

Creatures of Emotion

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” As someone who has taught writing for over thirty years, I find myself increasingly buying into this quotation from Dale Carnegie. We English teachers spend time talking about constructing a logical argument and how to avoid fallacies, yet, if we’re honest, we see that people respond much more strongly and much more frequently to emotional appeals.

Even highly educated people respond more strongly to emotion than they do to logic, until they can’t overcome your statements, in which case they try to shoot you down with logic. Those same people attempt to build bullet-proof arguments out of logical bricks and mortar. Then, when their logical flaws are pointed out, do they, as logic and science would demand, amend their thinking? No, they go off on an emotional course.

Let me illustrate with an invented example:

Boss: It’s not at all personal that we’re terminating your employment.
Worker: You’re firing me?
Boss: We’re eliminating your position.
Worker: But the company website shows that you’re hiring someone for a job that sounds just like mine.
Boss: That’s different. And besides, your performance made your termination necessary.
Worker: But I had the best ratings of anybody in my department.
Boss: Not that performance–something else.
Worker: I find it suspicious that you’re firing me just after I pointed out your violations of company policy.
Boss: Security! Escort this fired employee from the premises!

What this sort of exchange boils down to is that we want to sound logical but that we’ll actually be driven by emotion.

Jesus tried to use logic in dealing with people. Frequently, we find him posing difficult questions to his listeners. Take this case from Mark 2:9-12:

“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat, and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he told the paralytic—  “I tell you: get up, take your mat, and go home.”

Basically, Jesus is saying, “Anybody can say you’re forgiven, but only somebody with power can say ‘Get up and walk’ and then watch the person walk. Therefore, if I can do that, then I must have the power to forgive also.”

And the response of his accusers? Actually, we don’t know how they responded, unless they were among those who were amazed. However, the people who eventually put Jesus to death saw his actions and heard his words. They were not persuaded by the logic of those things. They simply behaved with emotion. “Okay . . . let’s kill him anyway!”

So what’s the point here? Should we be creatures of logic or creatures of emotion? We have to admit that believing in justification through the blood of Jesus isn’t the most logical thing a person can do. Is it an emotional response? Is it a logical response based on additional information? Or is there a third possibility? I don’t have settled answers for these questions, but as a merely emotional creature, I’m not required to have them. What do you think?