Dale Carnegie wrote one of my favourite books.
‘How To Win Friends And Influence People’.
He wrote it half a century ago.
Unfortunately it sparked a whole genre of self-help books.
Most of these were just lists of cheap gimmicks to manipulate people into doing what you wanted.
Transparent tricks that by-and-large didn’t work.
Books for losers in fact.
So the title of Dale Carnegie’s original book now sounds like something you’d be embarrassed to be caught reading.
Which is a shame.
Because I think it’s a great book.
Sure it’s about how to get what you want.
But not in a bad way.
His feeling is you don’t have to screw anyone else.
The opposite in fact.
You’re more likely to get what you want if you help other people get what they want.
So it’s absolutely not about greed.
Before he wrote the book, Dale Carnegie used to teach classes in the same subject.
One of the stories he tells goes roughly as follows.
“I was telling my class about an incident that happened the other day.
I was in a long line at the Post Office.
Serving us was a man with a fine head of healthy hair.
But he was really grumpy and looked like he couldn’t smile if he tried.
He was rude to everyone as if he had no time for small talk.
I thought I’d make it a challenge to see if I could get that man to smile.
When it came my turn at the counter he took my parcel without a word or a glance.
I took off my hat, stroked my own thinning hair and said to him “Gee, I sure wish I had a head of hair like yours.”
The man stopped, looked at me and said, “You know I’ve often had compliments about my hair. I’m just lucky I guess, I’ve always had good hair, runs in the family.”
Then he broke into the broadest smile, and chatted pleasantly to me for some time before I left.
I thought “I bet that made his day.”
When I told this story to the class one of the students said, “Okay, but what did you get out of it?”
And I thought, is that it?
Are we so cheap and shabby and self-obsessed that we can’t do a decent human act unless there is some selfish benefit in it for us?”
I often think about that story when people say to me, “Yeah but what’s in it for you?”
We live in a world where we suspect everyone.
No one does anything except for personal gain.
That’s the world we create in our minds, so that’s the world we live in.
And then occasionally we see someone who isn’t like that.
Someone who helps someone else.
For no reason.
Someone who makes the world a slightly nicer place.
And we’re faced with a choice.
Because each person makes their own world.
We either choose to live in the world of the ignorant and selfish.
To let them dictate our environment and our experience.
Or we choose to live in the world of the people who make it a slightly nicer place.
Both worlds exist side by side.
By being nice we won’t make the nasty one go away.
But we won’t be part of it.
It will brush up against our world.
But it won’t be our world.
I was reminded of this recently when I read something Bill Bernbach had written about one of his clients.
He wrote, “I will never forget the client who addressed his employees as follows, “We are in the service business and I know it pays to be courteous.
But I urge you to be courteous for another reason.
It is so much a better way to live.
It is a difficult life at best, and thoughtfulness can multiply the pleasant moments.”
So what’s in it for you?
Only your life.