Abraham Lincoln seemed to have an extraordinary ability to not react with vindictiveness or malice toward people even when they had attacked him. Lincoln chose for his secretary of defense, Edwin Stanton, a man who had insulted and publically criticized him. However, Lincoln felt he was the best man for the job and whatever had happened between him and Stanton previously should have no bearing on his choice. That is an amazing man who could do that. Although Lincoln found himself with power and authority, he restrained the use of that power. He often used it in ways that were compassionate.
Lincoln found it difficult to punish the soldiers who had shown cowardice in the face of the enemy. He referred to those cases as his “leg cases,” “running itch,” or “vulnerable heels.” “I put it to you,” he once remarked, “and I leave it for you to decide for yourself. If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”
Even the president’s two sons, Willie and Tad, were aware of their father’s frequent pardons. Having sentenced their doll soldier to death as punishment for sleeping on guard duty, they obtained mercy from their father. “The doll Jack is pardoned. By order of the President,” he commanded on Executive Mansion stationery, signing it just as he signed all of his pardons: A. Lincoln.i
As parents, we have power over our children when they are infants. How we use that power will make such a difference in their lives. Some parents become over-bearing and controlling, thereby misusing their authority. This often causes children to leave home early and reject their parents’ values. Other parents surrender their authority during the toddler stage and become subject to the child’s every whim. Neither does this approach render a good outcome.
When a parent sees their parental responsibility as preparing the child to live life, it frees them to make the hard choices and let the little stuff slide. They never use their authority to manipulate or control their children. Instead, they inspire their children to follow them as they see the qualities of restraint, self-control and generosity displayed.
As President Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.” This attitude works in the home too.
i Donald T. Phillips, Lincoln on Leadership, Time Warner Books, New York, 1992, p. 59-60