With Lincoln’s birthday coming up, I want to thank him for his great influence on me, my life, and my therapeutic philosophy.
It might be a bit of a cliché or just plain obvious to be a big fan of Abraham Lincoln. I mean, who isn’t, right? Hating Abraham Lincoln would be like hating cute little yellow lab puppies. He was just such a good guy—not to mention that he pulled our great country from the brink of disaster and implosion. But, actually, that’s not why I love Abraham Lincoln as much as I do.
In my office, I have a fairly large portrait of Abe Lincoln in a nice cherry-wood finish frame. I have it situated so I see it every time I come into the office. I want the reminder of him to be there everyday, his very existence inspiring me to emulate all that he was, what he stood for, and how he behaved in his life, how he refused to allow situations to dictate his responses. To summarize, I have great admiration for his capacity, strength and fortitude to overcome so many difficulties, despite his very humble beginnings, and even more important to me, his constant struggles with his own personal demons. In other words, Abe Lincoln did what he did because he was willing to face his limitations, learn from them, all without running from them, lying to himself about them, or ignoring them.
I love Abraham Lincoln because of the way he navigated through his own struggles. To know about his personal life is to become familiar with an often deeply troubled and sad man. A man gripped in self-doubt, even self-loathing at times. Abe was a man who, while sitting as President, had to endure immense pressures from his political “friends” and enemies. Abe was often referred to in the press as a Gorilla or simply “the ape,” alongside comic-like drawings of his face attached to the body of an ape in part because he was very tall for his day and as we all know he had that long sallow face with the dreamy eyes. He was known to weep at the sight of soldiers gruesomely injured as the result of decisions he’d made that sent them into battle. He cried to himself for days on end after not just one but two of his sons died. Yet, he continued to do what he believed necessary to lead his country, his people out of the bondage of slavery, to help them find the angels of their better natures. The stories of his great personal strength fill the volumes of entire libraries. They all stem from his consistent, if sometimes wavering, capacity and willingness to stare adversity in the face, be honest with himself about its importance, and then make difficult but necessary decisions about how to address and overcome those adversities. His compassion for others seems to have been infinite, and at times it crushed him, and also compelled him to continue his efforts with even greater energy.
Abraham Lincoln is my personal hero. I can think of no other person in history more deserving of my complete admiration and respect. His is the name I would give if asked, “who would you most like to be like.” I cannot view myself as having the great personal attributes he had, to the extent he had them: courage, self-restraint, humility, intelligence, or even his great physical strength. What we do share in personal attributes, though, I am proud to share with him: not letting humble beginnings limit what we do later in life, carrying compassion even for those who might otherwise deserve our disdain or worse, doing what is right, even when doing so might mean our own demise, socially, politically, economically, and in the end even our very own lives. What might our world be like if we were all just a little more like old Abe. It is common for me to ask myself, especially in really difficult situations, “what would Abe Lincoln do?” Then, that’s what I do.
If you’ve read other parts of my web page, or know about the difficulties I faced as a child, you might think that Abe’s story inspired me to survive my troubled past. Actually, that’s not the case at all. I didn’t think about Abe much at all until I was well into my adult life. I started reading about Abe during a time of prolonged unemployment, when I had a bunch of extra time on my hands. I was feeling like a failure. And I was reading about a guy who lost several elections before becoming the greatest President we’ve ever had. It was then that I started to allow myself to believe that I could emulate him, use him as a standard for my own personal strength, my own humility, and my own fortitude. This, I think, began a new road for me, which eventually led me to become a therapist, with Abe’s picture on my wall for me and my clients to see every time we are in my office.
I use Abe not only as an example for me, but also for my clients. In fact, Abe Lincoln is the best example, among many, of a man who achieved greatness, not due to his circumstances, but in spite of them. He is the personification of all that the idea of Jupiter Center stands for, the reason I chose the name “Jupiter” for my therapy practice—that the spirit of a person, and not their physical circumstances, determines how they live their lives. It is the choices we make, not those which are made for us, that reign supreme. Abe Lincoln proved that for all of us to see.
They call him “honest Abe.” The man was the embodiment of integrity, even when that might have been less than obvious to others at the time. How do we know this now? Because he was so honest even with himself and those with whom he had a close and affectionate affiliation. Read his personal writings, letters, notes to himself and others and you find a man complicated very deeply, to the core of who he was with misgivings about his own abilities, right up until he was taken from us by someone who could not bare his success. To the world he was honest, and to himself he was even more honest. Abraham Lincoln had the strength and courage to face his own fears, doubts, and pain, no matter how grave, and emerged stronger for the struggle. Mr. Lincoln had that very rare combination of success beyond anyone’s dreams, with humility beyond most people’s comprehension. Mr. Lincoln’s very greatness was a reflection of his humility.