Act your age

Act your age“, I heard myself saying when my daughter recently did something silly the other day. Whatever she did, I don’t particularly recall but I’m certain it wasn’t actually that silly – especially considering that she is only eight. In retrospect my comment was more a reflection of my frustration at that particular moment – something else was irritating me, and I blew something minor into bigger proportions.

Acting one’s age seems to be one of those things at which we are perceived to only ever under– rather than over-deliver. Only an hour earlier, my daughter had sat at at a laptop, produced a beautiful piece of extra homework in PowerPoint, complete with photographs which she had taken on my phone, embedded sections of a map and pictures which she had herself scanned from hard copy. It was all perfectly formatted, and she had taken time to neatly align everything. It was faultless, and the quality far exceeded that which I have seen in many “professional” presentations. Considering the fact that it was only “optional” to do this work, I was impressed that she was doing it.

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How to win friends and influence people

I’ve recently been reading How to win friends and influence people, by Dale Carnegie.

It’s a great read, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.  My instant reaction would be to wholeheartedly recommend it, but on reflection I’d hesitate to do that – or at least I’d want to issue some kind of “disclaimer” beforehand.  This seems like a strange way to be thinking about a book which became an instant best-seller on first publication, and has gone on to sell more than 12 million copies.  I deliberately didn’t read reviews of it beforehand (or since).  It is, after all, such a well-known book from a highly respected author that I considered it a “must read”.

In the Preface and Introduction the book’s origins are explained, and I can absolutely understand its appeal at the time.  But it is hard to see who is reading the book now.  I suspect that there are many people for whom winning friends and influencing people comes entirely naturally.  These readers will perhaps get a better understanding of what they are subconsciously doing and how they are achieving results.  They will probably find it interesting and informative, but it won’t be an essential read.

I can imagine, though, that there will be many people for whom this is all rather unnatural, and the reason they’re reading it is that they’re keen to learn how to change their behaviour.  This is, however, a self-selecting group – and probably rather a small group.  I suspect (again, no data to support this), that people who struggle to win friends and influence people will not be the sort of people who will want to change their behaviour.  This is a massive generalisation, but I do believe it takes a particular personality type to be sufficiently self-aware in the first place, and then motivated to make a change.

Carnegie even writes about this in the book.  He asserts that you can’t teach someone – you can only create the right environment and context for them to learn.  But they have to learn for themselves.

So the “disclaimer” I referred to earlier would be along these lines:

  • If you are already good at winning friends and influencing people, then don’t buy this book unless you want to understand why you’re good at it.
  • If you generally struggle with the subject and you understand that, you’re probably capable of changing your behaviour – so go ahead and read it.

But there will be plenty of people who struggle with the subject and don’t give it much thought.  For those people, they probably wouldn’t be considering reading it anyway.  So I continue to wonder… who are all the people who are reading it now?  Are they self-aware self-improvers, or has it been recommended to them?