In his classic book, How To Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie sums up the first chapter with this advice:
Principle 1. Don’t criticise, condemn or complain.
Now I get the idea, and work by it in general, believing there are far more constructive ways to go about things.
But I’m also a big believer in speaking up when you see injustice, and in doing what you can to change things for the better.
So at what point does Principle 1 become unprincipled?
Margaret Heffernan wrote:
We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know. But we give ourselves hope when we insist on looking.
It might be easier and safer to keep quiet, to keep your head down, to not mention – or choose not to see – when things are awry. We may be more likeable if we keep smiling, are always friendly and chirpy, never question anything.
But when does that easier, safer, likeable point shift?
And when does our silence make up complicit?
If we know International Aid is being syphoned off by corrupt officials, shouldn’t we criticise this? If we see abuse happening next door shouldn’t we condemn it. If we believe inflated bonuses are being paid to a boss who has caused immense damage, shouldn’t we complain about it?
If you want to change things – if you want to break barriers – you surely can’t do it without criticising, condemning or complaining.
But if you want to win friends, then Dale Carnegie is probably right, and it’s best to follow Principle 1.
It’s a matter of choice and of principles.
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