Sunday, March 16, 2008
Sunday, March 9, 2008
I just read a book called Lincoln’s Melancholy and it is a fascinating read. As a long time Lincoln lover, I have often pondered exactly what was the fuel behind his greatness. Author, Joshua Wolf Shenk has put forth an interesting new take on what ran “the little engine that could”, as long time Lincoln friend and law partner, William Herndon famously called Lincoln’s ambition. To put it simply, Shenk identifies Lincoln’ lifelong struggle with depression as the motivating factor behind his greatness. This was of extreme fascination to me for I too have battled the dark forces of depression and have used my own wars against it to stoke my own creative fires. Please note that I certainly do not have the hubris to suggest that I am on the level of Mr. Lincoln but only state that I can relate to the battle he waged within.
Mr. Shenk also points to Lincoln’s use of humor as both a major tool in not only his political arsenal but also as a forceful weapon against his own depression. I also could relate to this tactic for my own sense of humor has put me in good stead against those 4am feelings of the soul. He also writes in great detail of what has been called “depressive realism”. As he states, “depression often springs from fundamentally accurate perceptions, that in some situations, can be an advantage.” Research has suggested that when people are not depressed, they are highly vulnerable to illusions, including unrealistic optimism, overestimation of themselves, and an exaggerated sense of their capacity to control events. The author places these observations within the framework of Lincoln’s entire life and especially in how he handled the overwhelming stresses of guiding the nation through the horrors of civil war.
This is but a brief overview of this fascinating book. I would recommend it highly to anyone but especially to those who have dealt with the darkness of depression. For in your darkest hours you can see you are not alone. The ghost of Lincoln is indeed there with you…..