Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Letter by Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln has been one of the three men I have idolised throughout my teens and 20s. His words, his deeds, and his entire life has been an inspiration. As a writer he didn't wax eloquent, but his words had a solid impact. It seemed as if he didn't need to decorate his beliefs. He seemed like a fellow who would write just the way he would speak. He is most famous for his presidential campaign speeches and the Gettysburg address (both of which you would find on the Gutenberg website), but it's only when one goes through his personal letters, does one realise what an extraordinary human being this man must have been.

Reproducing a letter he wrote to his son's headmaster. Vasant Bapat has translated this letter into Marathi which is to be found in every Marathi speaking household, courtesy Majestic Prakashan. Bapat's version is even better on some counts, as his translated piece is laced with similes and metaphors and a soothing flow of words that only a poet would know how to. If you've read that, the original may seem a tad too dry, but it scores on being original after all! One more aspect on which the original version scores higher is that you think this is what an average joe dad would want, and write - if he ever had the clarity. This is the most appealing part about Lincoln. He sounds authentic. He sounds one of us. He rose to heights despite that and that is extremely motivating.

Lincoln writes -

"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 far every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader…

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 then 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 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 a green hill-side.

In school teach him it is far more honorable 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 the tough. Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when every one 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 the 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 be beware of too much sweetness...Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders; but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul.Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob...and to stand and fight if he thinks he's right.

Treat him gently; but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire makes the 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 always have sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order; but see what can you do… He is such a fine little fellow, my son."

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