Imagine for a moment the impact you could have on the quality of your life, and the lives of others around you, if you could become a more skillful peacemaker—one who could calm troubled waters before small problems became large problems.
The benefits that come from peacemaking can be enormous. Individually, we enjoy a greater sense of congruency in our lives and experience less stress. In a family unit, which constantly presents opportunities to bring peace, we enjoy more closeness and experience less contention. In a business setting, leadership constantly seeks for leaders who can bring unity and “oneness” in fulfilling the mission of that business.
Past history presents us with a treasure chest of valuable information that comes from studying the lives of great leaders who developed their peacemaking skills, and expanded their circle of influence so greatly that it often affected generations of people. One such leader was Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln embodied in his actions and words a feeling of calm and unity. People who met Lincoln often wrote about how the comforting feeling they had from spending even a few minutes with the president.
On a rainy day in March 1865, four men secretly met aboard the Steamer River Queen in Virginia. These men represented the Union High Command of the Northern states. Their important mission was to find a “path to peace.” The Civil War had raged for over four years, and the costs in loss of life, property, and resources were immeasurable. No war had left wives, mothers, and fathers in such mourning that, as one soldier’s mother observed “heaven could hardly ignore our pain and prayer.”
As the four men solemnly discussed their options, one spoke of his absolute conviction that slavery must forever be abolished. He was equally determined that this “new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” must be preserved. He was Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, and this nation’s 16th president.
When the meeting concluded, and he returned to Washington, he must have felt the weight of the world on his drooping shoulders. All he had known since being elected president were the thunderous sounds of war. The conflict had aged him beyond his years and chiseled deep lines into his gaunt face. Lincoln was weary.
He could not have known that the decisions made that day would indeed bring a quick end to the war. On April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at the Appomattox Court House. The war was over, slavery was abolished, and the states were once again The United States of America.
We too can capture the spirit and skills that Lincoln acquired in his life to bring peace wherever and whenever he could. In the process, we can enhance our own lives and the lives of those we touch in real and meaningful ways. Listed below are five practical philosophies that guided Lincoln as a peacemaker, which can be of immense value to us if we choose to adopt them.
- Seek peace, but not at any price
Lincoln could have ended the war a number of times and yielded to the enormous pressures to make peace. Yet, he did not until he was certain that he could abolish slavery and preserve the Union. In all circumstances, the only real peace that endures, whether individually or globally is peace based upon timeless unchanging principles.
- Seek common ground
Lincoln constantly chose to emphasize the similarities he had with others. He instinctively knew it was far more productive to help people see their shared truths and dwell on their common ground no matter how small. When that is done, the common ground expands, and mutual trust and understanding follow.
- Avoid criticism
People noted that Lincoln was seldom critical of others. When he had suggestions to make to others about how they could improve their performance, he made those suggestions in private. Because he refused to join with others who were critical of someone who was not there to defend themselves, he sent a silent message to everyone present that they could trust him to also be loyal to them when they were not there.
- Follow your mother’s advice
It may not have been your mother who said it, but someone of influence in your life, or Lincoln’s life, probably did. “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” These simple words of wisdom underscore the importance of when to speak and when to listen. Spoken words are so difficult to retract that we always need to weigh them very carefully before we speak them.
- Choose not to be easily provoked
People who wanted to trap Lincoln by getting him into useless arguments always left disappointed. The president simply refused to be provoked. To those who made fun of his awkward appearance, he simply ignored or joined in with them at poking fun at himself. He didn’t indulge himself in “losing his temper” but instead found a greater satisfaction in finding ways to choose his own response to circumstances, people, and conditions.