Sunday, June 11, 2017

"As Long as They're Nice About It."

I had the very good fortune of knowing former Senator George A. Smathers, now deceased, and even of being one of his law partners in the firm of Smathers & Thompson.  I became an associate of that firm in 1972 and a partner five years later.  By the time I went to work full-time for S&T in 1972 (I was a law clerk during the summer between my second and third years of law school), Senator Smathers had retired from the Senate.  By then he was active in two firms that he had founded.  One of them was in Washington D.C., which was mainly a base for his lobbying, and the other his Miami-based firm.  To call the Miami-based firm "his" is a bit of a stretch, because there was a set of senior partners and then there was the rest of us, but the question of his ultimate control was one that no one really wanted to test - although a crisis did arise during the 1980s.  But this post is not about that.

What it is about is the friendship that "the Senator" and I had, or one aspect of it, and that was the lunches he and I had together, usually on Fridays and usually at a place called "the Miami Club."  Often those lunches had one or two others with us, but many times it was just the two of us.  He was very open about many, many things, and I learned a great deal about, well, just how to behave.

One of the things he said to me that I will never forget and that I often recall, is this: "Paul, it doesn't matter what people do to you, as long as they're nice about it."

Now of course that is hyperbolic, but there is so much truth to it.  Having spent most of his adult life in the club called "the Senate," not allowing one's self to hold a grudge was the path to success, as he saw it.  If you were going to cross him, and people often did, then they needed to be nice to him, because he knew (and his colleagues in that chamber knew) that at some time in the future, they would need his help on something that would mean much less to him than it would to them.  So people in the Senate - at least at that time - knew to be nice.  He would not have fled the field after a set-back.  He would still be there, cordially welcoming an approach.  Thus and similarly, he was "nice" to others, even when others gave offense.  He was a master at dealing with angry, self-centered people.  That was simply part of one of his several his over-arching gifts: he was a master at dealing with people of all sorts.

How sad it is that President Trump has no idea of the power of the idea that "It doesn't matter what people do to you, as long as they are nice about it."  In one sense, I think that President Trump is the exception that proves the rule.  His being "not nice" reaches the angry center of many people so unhappy with the American Situation.  But ultimately, I think, this will make the President an unsuccessful one.


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