The Book That Changed The Lives of Charles Manson and Warren Buffett
Before he became a mass murderer, Charles Manson was in prison for grand theft auto. He needed something to do to pass the time so he took courses based on a book. The book showed him how to get people to do what you want (even if it’s a heinous act of bloodshed) by convincing them it was their own idea. Lee Iacocca credits the same book for launching his career. So does Lyndon B. Johnson. So does Warren Buffett. A psychopath, a president, and one of the richest men in the world: they all say their lives were changed dramatically, by the same book.
The book? How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. (Laura Miller, The Father of Self Help)
The People Around You
Last post we looked at the evidence for the incredible power people around you have on your thinking and behavior. Psychologists and sociologists call this phenomena the social norm. We heard my own story about my angry adult classmates and how their influence shook me and caused me to doubt my own convictions. We also looked at evidence for the power of the people around you presented on a Freakonomics podcast.
People don’t want to believe it about themselves. Most will tell you they’re independent of the cultural consciousness and the opinions of those around them. In one of the studies cited in the last post people overwhelmingly said a sign telling occupants to conserve energy in their home, simply because their neighbors were doing so, wouldn’t work. But that sign turned out to be the only one that did work. Yes, people want to believe they’re independent of what other’s think, but the evidence says otherwise. (See previous post The Angry Crowd (That Really Happened))
The Books Around You
Just like Warren Buffett, just like Lyndon B. Johnson, just like Charles Manson, the books you read will change how you think. They’ll change how you behave. They’ll change who you are. And that’s great news. Because while you do have complete control over who makes up your social norm when it comes to friends, you don’t have complete control when it comes to coworkers and family. But books are a different matter entirely. If you’re an adult who’s completed school, you have total control over your social norm where books are concerned.
“But wait a minute,” you say. “You used the term social norm concerning books. A person’s social norm is made up of the people around them.”
That’s right, and books are, in a sense, people. Warren Buffett and Charles Manson were influenced by the person Dale Carnegie. It was Dale Carnegie who communicated with Buffett and Manson. If you read How to Win Friends and Influence People today, it will be Dale Carnegie who influences. you. Dale Carnegie will become a part of your social norm. When you read any book by any author, that author becomes a part of the make up of your social norm because that author is communicating with you. In fact you could say that some of the most effective communication that person has to offer, has been directed toward you. Because he thought this particular piece of communication was so good, it was worth putting in a book.
And it’s not just authors. The same can be said of the subjects of biographies. Read about the resolve of Louis Zamperini in his biography Unbroken and see if you’re not inspired. Or read about the anguish of atheist C.S. Lewis in his autobiographical account Surprised by Joy and see if you’re not changed.
So what are we to do then? How are we to manage this incredibly powerful thing called the social norm? As we saw in the last post, whenever and wherever you can, surround yourself with people who will influence you to become the ultimate person you could possibly become. To me there’s only one model, and that’s Jesus Christ. So I try to surround myself with people who pursue Him, so I will be influenced to pursue Him more completely.
The same can be said about books. Through books you can use the power of the social norm to influence yourself to become like your ultimate human being. For me I surround myself with men who are particularly good at pursuing Christ. Men like A.W. Tozer, Timothy Keller, Hudson Taylor, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Oh, and Brother Lawrence–one of my favorites. If you haven’t yet read The Practice of the Presence of God, do it. It will change your life.
Whether they’re the author or the subject of a biography, when I read their books these men communicate with me. I get to know them. I enjoy their company.
Each one becomes my friend.
The Most Powerful Social Norm
You could say that without question, the person who has had the most powerful influence on me, I found in a book. He has become the biggest part of the group who make up my social norm. That person is Jesus Christ. And I found him in the Bible.
When I read his books, he communicates with me. I get to know him. I enjoy his company.
He becomes my friend.
You’ll be so glad if you do the same.
The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. John 3:29
[Image via Elim Center International – Creative Commons]