Monday, February 21, 2011

A PRESIDENT LEARNS FROM DEFEAT

Probably no one in American history is more revered than Abraham Lincoln, and probably no one in public life knew more about defeat. Early in life, he lost in love. His career was a struggle against odds, with many failures. He went through a series of almost unremitting political defeats before being elected president, and for that matter, he suffered constant public deriding during his presidency. His private life was equally torn. In a letter to his friend John Stuart, Lincoln said: "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not" (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 1, 229).

Yet clearly enough, Lincoln learned from his defeats. When he stood at the edge of his greatest victory, he spoke with the wisdom and compassion that can only be learned through defeat: "With malice toward none, with charity toward all…" Assassination prevented Mr. Lincoln's ever having the chance to implement his convictions, but he was settled in his mind as to the course he would follow. I don't believe that he would have possessed such compassionate insight if he hadn't himself suffered so many losses. He had a soul for those who had lost because he had learned the pain of defeat. If he had not learned from defeat, he would have struck out against the conquered with bitter revenge. His education in defeat made him great.

-- J. Ellsworth Kalas in If Experience Is Such a Good Teacher Why Do I Keep Repeating the Course?


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