Abe’s way of talking

Buried towards the bottom of an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal is one of my favorite quotes from the tremendous canon of Abraham Lincoln.  “With malice toward none”  It’s a tall challenge and when you think about it, we should try to apply it everyday in all our interactions with family, pets, co-workers, and people who cut you off in the Starbucks line.

The point of the article was that he intentionally structured his speeches so they would convey a rhetorically negative tone. Utilizing such a tactic well, and who can argue that Lincoln didn’t do it well, appeals directly, the author asserts, to a human’s sense of morality. For example, for that quote instead of saying something like, “Be kind to everyone”, Lincoln used a word, malice, that starkly describes a behavior he wanted people to avoid.  That is, to inflict harm.  By voicing the negative instead of the positive, his message became much more powerful, like the effect a father might have when he intones his son to not smack his sister.

If we were to try this tactic in our everyday communications, we might find over a short period of time few people would want to speak with us. It sounds too solemn and borders on arrogance. Most of us aren’t met with the occasions to speak in such a way.  Lincoln, however, was cursed by being a leader during very grave times, of slavery and civil war.  Maybe the tone was the only tone that could possibly have worked to convince people they needed to behave differently with each other.

About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

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