I say this all the time: I am so grateful for the people who surround me. When I’m with these people I feel justified, challenged, and loved. The comfort that comes with finding those who match what you are looking for in lifelong friends is like finding a dozen soulmates you can be yourself with, endlessly.
So, how did this happen? I’ll get into it, but fortunately for me, it runs in my blood. My greatest credible example comes from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, in which my great-grandfather’s business model is featured.
Business men are learning that it pays to be friendly to strikers. For example, when two thousand five hundred employees in the White Motor Company’s plant struck for higher wages and a union shop, Robert F. Black, the president [my great-grandfather], didn’t wax wroth and condemn, and threaten and talk of tyranny and Communists. He actually praised the strikers. He published an advertisement in the Cleveland papers, complimenting them on “the peaceful way in which they laid down their tools.” Finding the strike pickets idle, he bought them a couple of dozen baseball bats and gloves and invited them to play ball on vacant lots. For those who preferred bowling, he rented a bowling alley.
This friendliness on President Black’s part did what friendliness always does: it begot friendliness. So the strikers borrowed brooms, shovels, and rubbish carts, and began picking up matches, papers, cigarette stubs, and cigar butts around the factory. Imagine it! Imagine strikers tidying up the factory grounds while battling for higher wages and recognition of the union. Such an event had never been heard of before in the long, tempestuous history of American labor wars. That strike ended with a compromise settlement within a week—ended without any ill feeling or rancor.Carnegie, D. (1940). How to win friends and influence people. New York: Pocket Books.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which allowed employees to form unions and petition for their rights. This meant that all good business leaders should have been preparing for walk-outs. Black was not president of the White Motor Company until 1935, the year the company’s strike began, but by that time there had been hundreds of strikes in the U.S. for him to learn from.
Being the heart of The Great Depression, the guy could have ruined the lives of those strikers. He could have used his power to hire new employees at the same wage as the strikers. He could have moved on, leaving all 2,500 workers to unemployment, and yet, he didn’t.
Black understood that his best move was to learn from the mistakes of other companies in order to stay afloat. From a human to human level, what was the greatest concern for the strikers? Well, what better way to learn than to ask them himself?
Providing activities for his employees allowed Black to step in and talk to the strikers in their environment. He got to understand their needs and kept his employees’ minds off of their struggles while resolving the real issues at hand. His tactics were authentic and real and effective.
Maybe Robert F. Black knew it’d cost him more to train 2,500 new men and gave his strikers baseball bats so they would stick around. Maybe they would even feel guilty that they’re enjoying themselves while their families became closer to starving with every passing day. It’s possible… but I don’t believe coercion was Black’s tactic. I believe he wanted to be a good person and get what he wanted.
Black was accommodating for his employees; he created carpool programs, learned people’s names, allowed anyone to enter his office, and opened the workplace for women to take their husband’s positions once deployed in WWII. He was approachable, he cared, and he retired as a beloved President.
Be it nature or nurture, I understand why my great-grandfather did what he did. I believe it was incredibly brilliant from a business perspective to end the strike as early as possible, but on a human level, the guy aligned his actions with how he understood his strikers wanted to be treated.
Now, my word choice in the title of this piece is purposefully problematic. Manipulation is the use of control over another person to influence change in their favor. This means a manipulator understands what brings a person to act, and uses that as leverage to get what they want. It is a dangerous, dangerous word that leads to the despair of at least one person, and the inauthentic satisfaction of another.
It’s hard to see manipulation when you’re in the middle of it, be it from one side or the other. When you want something, you want it, and that may be a blinding goal to some, especially when the manipulator sees their manipulation affirmed in action.
I often take a step back to see the course of my actions and ensure that what I am asking of others doesn’t cross their desires. I think it’s something everyone should do because it’s so easy these days to make others feel the way that we want them to feel, not the way they would otherwise feel (especially to the people we know and care about most).
I had been easily manipulated in romantic relationships. I know this, and I often allowed it to happen because I want others to be happy. What I am learning more though, is that giving people what you believe they want is not giving people what they want, especially if you don’t get what you put into your relationship; friendship or otherwise.
To get back to the big picture, how can one manipulate another into loving them? From one side, or the other, you can’t. You can only be your authentic self and allow whatever comes into your life to be the real thing. There are no shortcuts, but you can be a good person who levels with others in order to understand their circumstances.
I believe that’s how I managed to scrap together the best people in the world. My friends are the glue to my universe, and I try my best to let them know I feel that way. I didn’t have the quality of friends growing up as I do now. They were hard years with sprinkles of good, but were also years I learned how friends shouldn’t treat others.
As I understand myself more, I see the goodness in others that I strive to have myself. There’s a quote that goes, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” As I grow, I’m beginning to see how true that is of every quality I want in myself, and how acting by example keeps me in the lives of those I refuse to lose.
Maybe that’s how my great-grandfather felt about his employees. Maybe his circumstances didn’t limit his ability to learn from others. After all, the actions of Black’s employees were as significant a movement as Black’s efforts to settle the strike.