f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

February 20, 2005

learning from Abe’s thick skin

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 3:07 pm

topHatAbe Lately, I’ve spent too much time responding to negative comments and misconstrued positions —  and, I’ve spent far too much energy trying to communicate with minds that seem closed (usually, by financial self-interest or ideology).  


If only I had the wisdom of Abe Lincoln, whose better approach is set forth in “Lincoln takes the heat,” (The History Net.com, by Harold Holzer, orig. in Civil War Times, Feb. 2001).   Holzer tells us that, although “Lincoln never escaped the bombardment of topical humor,”  the President was wise enough to know not to respond — even to lies.  When actor James Hackett apologized to Lincoln in 1863, for making public a private letter that “provoked howls of laughter from the press”at the President’s expense:
pennyS  Lincoln replied to reassure Hackett that the affair had not upset him. “Give yourself no uneasiness,” he counseled the actor, adding that he was not “much shocked by the newspaper comments.” His skin had long ago grown thick enough to withstand the satirical abuse fired at him during his 30 years in the political trenches.   As Lincoln touchingly expressed it, the endless taunts were but “a fair specimen of what has occurred to me through life…. I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it.”  (emphasis added)

The same ridicule/kindness quotation appears in an Associated Press article in many newspapers today, which is captioned “Lincoln is used to sell fries, bobblehead dolls,” in my hometown Schenectady Gazette, and “No rest for the man who saved the union,” in a Cleveland Plain Dealer article, and “Act 2: Lincoln’s image lives on” in the Washington Times (Feb. 20, 2005).  The A/P story quotes Lincoln impersonator Jim Getty:
“Today, Lincoln is an empty vessel for dreamers and schemers, for humorists and educators, trinket salesmen and appliance dealers looking to add a bit of cachet to Presidents Day sales.”

I wonder if even Honest Abe would accept being made the Patron Saint of ATLA this year, as the trial lawyers have done in their fight against the President’s slurs and tort reform.  (see our ATLA, Lincoln and Tort Reform.)

      The Holzer article wraps up with some important insights:

topHatAbeN America’s first humorist-president became one of its most often parodied presidents as well. But Lincoln apparently had less trouble accepting such taunts than do modern Americans scandalized by the likes of Desmond Pfeiffer; just as he could tell a joke, he could also take one. . .

Perhaps Lincoln’s optimism stemmed in part from a realization that humorists make a difference. That was true then as well as now. Purveyors of wit can provide a troubled people an occasional laugh in the midst of great tragedy.  Besides, Americans who laughed at Lincoln could always be comforted by the fact that the president laughed at himself.

  • A.J. Jacobs has apparently been listening to Lincoln — deciding not to sue Joe Queenan over his bad book review.  As Lincoln advised: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.   Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time.”   If only James McNeill Whistler had been so restrained back in 1878. (Via Ted at Overlawyered)

I plan to try a lot harder to stifle the need to respond to antagonistic reviews and comments.  The nature of the weblog universe is that our ideas are out there and are magnets for those who disagree.  I respect the right for others to disagree — although I hope they do so in good faith and with an open mind (and I will try to listen to those folks in the same spirit) — but I am also going to start respecting my own right to let what I say stand on its own.  (related post:The Hardest Part of the Watchdog Role)

a great lord
drenching wet, passes
my cozy brazier


enjoying the great lord’s  topHatAbe 
good graces…
sumo wrestler

the great lord   GWg
forced off his horse…
cherry blossoms 

. . . by Kobyashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

from dagosan:   


business lunch
starts with a compliment —
he raises his knife        


  1. Hi David, I love your website, it’s attractive with all the white space and the icons, interesting content, and I especially enjoy the haiku. Dagosan, cute. :) Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog, Dao of Wallace Stevens. I have more excerpts from the RH Blyth book on peonies on my ‘spiritual genealogy’ site if you’d like to read more. Thanks again!

    Comment by Karen M. — February 20, 2005 @ 4:06 pm

  2. Hello, Karen.  Thank you for stopping by and leaving such kinds words.  I hope my readers will check out your contemplations of poet Stevens (and much more) at Dao of Wallace Stevens.  I’ll be back there, and will also seek out more of your ruminations on peonies here.
    You can find a few dozen Issa haiku featuring peonies at David Lanoue’s wonderful site.  Here’s a pair that caught my eye this morning:
    by itselfmy head bows…peony!
    sitting on her eggsthe chicken admiresthe peony

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 21, 2005 @ 8:13 am

  3. […] p.s.  Admittedly, it can at times be difficult not to respond in kind to the jerky behavior of your opponent.  This President’s Weekend, you might try “learning from Abe Lincoln’s thick skin.” […]

    Comment by shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » sutton’s “no-asshole-rule” works pro se, too — February 17, 2007 @ 11:17 pm

  4. Well, David, as someone who pokes at your regularly at schlep (ouch, current one just went up, feel free to poke back), I have to say that sometimes when people can’t be led, they have to be “poked.”

    Healthy debate is far more preferable, but we seem to have left “debate” behind and consider every discussion (or opinion) an attack.

    Lincoln was great at debate. Wish I had his sense of humor. Lacking that, the blogosphere is a unique place to hone it while trying to open issues for ideas or discussion, which is the real work.

    Until then, I poke away. (smiling) … It’s often considered a compliment.

    I am confused however, at your quote of dragosan. I wouldn’t enter a debate with anyone with a knife. I only use chopsticks. (see Confucious)

    Comment by 127001 — February 18, 2007 @ 8:42 am

  5. dear 127001, As someone who has been poking away at the legal profession for decades, trying to improve the plight of its consumers and to increase access to justice, I agree that a good poke can be very helpful. Some people, however, create strawmen rather than offer good faith dissent to opinions with which they agree. I’ve learned that such people don’t deserve to be given a forum for their distortions and do not merit the time it takes to rebut their assertions.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 18, 2007 @ 9:41 am

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