Have you ever interacted with a person who left you amused, baffled, frustrated or down right angry? If you get out of the house much I know you have. And if you are anything like me you’ve probably laughed some of it off, told some of them off or complained about one or two of them to a co-worker, spouse or friend. Now certainly we all need a way to relieve the pressure that builds in dealing with interesting folks (if you know what I mean), but how we vent the inevitable buildup can mean the difference between failure and success on any given day.
Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.” Now wait a minute, surely Mr. Franklin didn’t intend that to apply to your hard-nosed boss or the “moron” who cut you off in traffic. And certainly he wasn’t referring to the unpatriotic pessimist who told you he’s fleeing the country to live life out on a beach. It can’t possibly apply to your in-laws and their unsolicited advice—or maybe it does. While venting can ease immediate frustration, perhaps Mr. Franklin was also giving a sound formula for managing attitude and effort on a daily basis.
According to Dr. David Schwartz, author of the Magic of Thinking Big, we are a product of our environment; he is referring more to our psychological environment than our physical one. Wow! If that is even partially true, how long should we remain in the “moron’s” psychological environment? It makes me wonder if dwelling on or gossiping about them perpetuates the environment?
Some of the most successful men in American History were Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. They accomplished nearly super-human feats with what appeared to be boundless energy. Perhaps not so coincidentally both created mechanisms to improve their psychological state. Among these were affirmations that encouraged them to avoid gossip in all its forms. Many of Franklin’s 13 virtues, that he systematically attempted to master throughout his life, dealt with creating a positive encouraging environment in all human interaction. Washington followed a pamphlet called the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation to help him develop a sincere demeanor in both professional and personal interactions. In it he learned to: “1. Sleep not when others speak… speak not when you should hold your peace…; 6. Shew not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy; 9. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ‘tis a sign of tractable …nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern; 13. Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust.”
Often I think in our fast paced, technologically advanced society we discount these age old rules of civility, but today books like How to Win Friends and Influence People have repackaged these concepts, concepts that go well before Washington’s time. So let me conclude with this piece of wisdom that goes back some 2500 years. Perhaps you’ve even read this Aesop Fable to your kids:
A Farmer placed nets on his newly-sown plow lands and caught a number of Cranes, which came to pick up his seed. With them he trapped a Stork that had fractured his leg in the net and was earnestly beseeching the farmer to spare his life. “Pray save me, Master,” he said, “and let me go free this once. My broken limb should excite your pity. Besides, I am no Crane, I am a Stork, a bird of excellent character; and see how I love and slave for my father and mother. Look too, at my feathers—they are not the least like those of a Crane.” The Farmer laughed aloud and said, “It may be all as you say, I only know this: I have taken you with these robbers, the Cranes, and you must die in their company.”
The moral: “Birds of a Feather Flock Together”
The next time we need to blow off a little steam let us pause to think about who we are about to psychologically “flock together with.” For whether we see ourselves as one of them or not doesn’t change the fact that our minds are still caught up in the very same net. So if for no other reason at first than to preserve our own energy stay clear of the net of gossip and negativity so that our minds and activities can focus on freedom and productivity in all its forms.