Letter from Abe Lincoln on Character Building

I have been greatly influenced by J. Krishnamurti who had a lot to say about all aspects of life and the significant role that our mind plays in building lives. His ethos on education which emphasised the real purpose of education as ‘not to prepare us for getting a job, but to help us understand the whole process of life’  is truly uplifting. According to him ‘…education is about how to love, how to live simply, how to free our minds from prejudice, superstition and fear. If the mind does not penetrate beyond its own barriers, there is misery.’  This kind of philosophy would appear to be alien to the modern day educationist.

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Equally alien, I am sure, would be what Abraham Lincoln had said on character building in his letter to the headmaster of his son’s school.

Here is the letter extracted from “Good Bye, Mr Patel”.

He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also, that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every selfish politician there is a dedicated hero. Teach him that for every enemy, there is a friend. It will take time, I know, but teach him, if you can, that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found… Teach him to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning. Steer him away from envy, if you can. Teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to lick. Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books, but also give him quiet time to ponder over the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on green hillsides.

In school teach him, it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong. Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with tough. Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is getting on the band wagon. Teach him to listen to all men, but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and take only good that comes through.

Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness. Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder, but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Teach him to close his ears to the howling mob and to stand and fight if he thinks he is right.

Treat him gently, but do not cuddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel. Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will have sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order, see what you can do. He is such a fine little fellow, my son.”

Anil Kumar, December 2014