“I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”
That’s Al Capone speaking. Yes, America’s most notorious Public Enemy- the most sinister gang leader who ever shot up Chicago. Capone didn’t condemn himself. He actually regarded himself as a public benefactor – an unappreciated and misunderstood benefactor.
And so did Dutch Schultz before he crumpled up under gangster bullets in Newark. Dutch Schultz, one of New York’s most notorious rats, said in a newspaper interview that he was a public benefactor. And he believed it.
I have had some interesting correspondence with Lewis Lawes, who was warden of New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison for many years, on this subject, and he declared that “few of the criminals in Sing Sing regard themselves as bad men. They are just as human as you and I. So they rationalize, they explain. They can tell you why they had to crack a safe or be quick on the trigger finger. Most of them attempt by a form of reasoning, fallacious or logical, to justify their antisocial acts even to themselves, consequently stoutly maintaining that they should never have been imprisoned at all.”
If Al Capone, “Two Gun” Crowley, Dutch Schultz, and the desperate men and women behind prison walls don’t blame themselves for anything – what about the people with whom you and I come in contact? John Wanamaker, founder of the stores that bear his name, once confessed: “I learned thirty years ago that it is foolish to scold. I have enough trouble overcoming my own limitations without fretting over the fact that God has not seen fit to distribute evenly the gift of intelligence.”
Wanamaker learned this lesson early, but I personally had to blunder through this old world for a third of a century before it even began to dawn upon me that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong it may be.
Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.
B. F. Skinner, the world-famous psychologist, proved through his experiments that an animal rewarded for good behavior will learn much more rapidly and retain what it learns far more effectively than an animal punished for bad behavior. Later studies have shown that the same applies to humans. By criticizing, we do not make lasting changes and often incur resentment.
Hans Selye, another great psychologist, said, “As much as we thirst for approval, we dread condemnation,” The resentment that criticism engenders can demoralize employees, family members and friends, and still not correct the situation that has been condemned.
George B. Johnston of Enid, Oklahoma, is the safety coordinator for an engineering company, One of his re-sponsibilities is to see that employees wear their hard hats whenever they are on the job in the field. He reported that whenever he came across workers who were not wearing hard hats, he would tell them with a lot of authority of the regulation and that they must comply. As a result he would get sullen acceptance, and often after he left, the workers would remove the hats. He decided to try a different approach.
The next time he found some of the workers not wearing their hard hat, he asked if the hats were uncomfortable or did not fit properly. Then he reminded the men in a pleasant tone of voice that the hat was designed to protect them from injury and suggested that it always be worn on the job. The result was increased compliance with the regulation with no resentment or emotional upset.