Learning from a successful person

February 17, 2006|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

Editor's note: Lisa Tedrick Prejean is on vacation. This column originally appeared in February 2002.

Do you wish your child would be a little more serious?

Is he constantly telling jokes and cutting up?

Always seeking a laugh?

Don't be so quick to change him. Encourage him to use that talent in a constructive way.

Perhaps one day he'll be president.

In this information age, we expect leaders to be entertaining as well as inspirational. But this expectation is nothing new.

One of the best leaders of our country was also one of the most entertaining ones.

Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, discovered early on that he could capture a crowd's attention.

"Lincoln was a great joke teller. He loved to tell stories," says Gene Griessman, author of "The Words Lincoln Lived By," 52 short essays built around the basic principles that made Lincoln great.


Presidents Day, which is Monday, Feb. 20, falls between the birthdays of Lincoln, Feb. 12, 1809, and George Washington, who was born Feb. 22, 1732.

Here are some lessons from Lincoln to share with your kids as Presidents Day approaches. These are suggestions from Griessman, a portrayer of Lincoln who is featured in "An Evening with Abraham Lincoln," a video of a live one-man play performance.

People can be successful even if they are not physically attractive.

"Lincoln was made fun of. People called him a gorilla," Griessman says.

He was 6 feet, 4 inches, which was extremely tall in that time period. He walked awkwardly, had big ears and a long nose, but today we don't consider his physical appearance when we think about what he did for our country.

"Even if you are not handsome or beautiful doesn't mean you can't be great," Griessman says.

It's important for parents to teach kindness in regard to appearance.

"Be careful how you treat that person because one day that person may be president," Griessman says.

· Poverty can be overcome.

Too many people think that if they had been born rich they could be successful. Lincoln's family was poor. He became great because he studied and worked hard.

· Setbacks are not final.

How you deal with defeat might determine your success. Just because you lose a race or don't get an A doesn't mean that has to be final unless you allow it to be. Lincoln didn't win every race he entered. At one point, he was merely considered a castoff politician. A few months later, he was inaugurated president.

· Listen to others, but trust your own judgment.

Lincoln would listen to his advisers, weigh their opinions, and then do what he thought was right. Sometimes he made decisions against the advice of his best friends.

A mature person is one who has developed his own intuitive powers. Children need to learn to make their own decisions and to accept the consequences of those decisions.

· Physical dexterity can be a major asset.

Lincoln was a champion wrestler. In his younger days, he engaged in fights in which people bet on him.

"This gave him a lot of self-confidence," Griessman says.

Physical fitness is good for your body and mind.

· Your enemies can become friends.

In his early years, Lincoln would say sharp things about and to people. Gradually he learned to make friends with people who disagreed with him.

One of the most important social skills is being able to express an opposing viewpoint and maintain a friendship, Griessman says.

"One of Lincoln's great strengths is that he was a harmonizer of opposites," Griessman says. "If a person is good at it, it will take him a long way," he says.

· Doing what's right might be costly.

Lincoln was assassinated because of his stand against slavery.

"There may come a time in your life when you're faced with a choice," Griessman says. "If you choose what you think is right, it may cost you financial loss, may cost you your friends. It may cost your life."

For more information, check out Griessman's Web site at

Looking for something to read to your children about Lincoln? My children enjoyed, "When Abraham Talked to the Trees," by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk. The book shows what Lincoln was like as a boy. It is available at Washington County Free Library.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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