One of my favorite stories from Dale Carnegie is about Dale Hoover, a famous test pilot and frequent performer at air shows.
After an air show in San Diego, Hoover was flying home to Los Angeles when both engines quit in the plane he was flying. His extreme skill allowed him to perform an emergency landing and survive with his two passengers, but the plane was badly damaged.
Hoover’s first act on the ground was to check the fuel tanks. His suspicion was confirmed: the WWII propellor plane had been filled with jet fuel, not gasoline, by the mechanic. Hoover went straight back to the airport and demanded to see the mechanic who had fueled the plane.
The mechanic came out of the bay, sick with the thought of losing an expensive plane, and almost causing three deaths by his careless mistake. Getting fired, he figured, would be the least of his worries. Hoover stared at the man for long moments, and then asked him to oversee the fueling of his plane the next day.
Everyone was shocked–Hoover wasn’t really known for temperance. One of his passengers asked, “Why would you want THIS guy, who almost killed us, to have another chance tomorrow?”
And Hoover responded: “Because there’s no one else in the world who will be more careful with my plane tomorrow.”
People screw up. I do it. So do you.
We know that our own mistakes are valuable. But we’re quick to condemn the mistakes of others, instead of realizing that THEIR mistakes are also valuable.
The real lesson from the story isn’t about forgiveness, though. It’s about scorekeeping.
Hoover COULD have blasted the mechanic. Everyone would have felt it justified. Even the mechanic expected it. But what would have happened NEXT?
Well, Hoover would have gone home and thought about the day. He’d have told his wife about it. And then he’d probably feel bad for the mechanic.
We internalize the things we do to other people. We never, ever just “shrug it off”.
Hoover’s story is an extreme example. But the dangerous scorekeeping we do is the daily stuff: your kid didn’t do their homework, so you have to figure out an appropriate punishment. Your husband didn’t notice your new haircut, so you’re justified in ignoring him. Your boss asks too much, so you might as well do less than you can.
The problem with your internal scoreboard is that only you can see it.
When you punish someone emotionally, they probably start their OWN scoreboard. And since they just turned the meter on, they’re going to put you in the hole.
When you practice holding grudges, you get better at holding grudges. What slows most of us down on any journey isn’t the mountain in front of us but the pebble in our shoe.
Here’s what to say to yourself when you notice your ego keeping score:
- “I have no idea what she’s been through today.”
- “Her home life must not be as good as mine.”
- “He must REALLY be struggling if he treats me this way.”
- “He must be really afraid of something.”
- “Maybe this is the only thing he’s good at.”
- “That guy’s not plotting to get me – he probably isn’t thinking about me at all.”
Most anger comes from fear. Most animosity, even directed at you, has nothing to do with you. We all live inside our own heads, but project our thoughts onto everyone else. It takes practice to stop. So practice.
Count your burpees. Count your scores.
Stop counting their sins. Stop counting your own.