I just finished reading the book “Outwitting The Devil” which was originally written in 1938 by Napoleon Hill. Because of the controversial material that was presented, the manuscript was withheld from publication until long after Napoleon’s death. The book was finally released by the Napoleon Hill Foundation in 2011 and it was annotated by Sharon Lechter. I found the book fascinating and filled with information that is just as thought provoking today as it was 80 years ago when it was written! I will focus on passages that I found most relevant to our children. The Devil’s claim is that the religious systems as well as the educational systems work together to cause our children to drift and to discourage them from thinking for themselves.
The book is primarily a question and answer series in which Napoleon queries the Devil on a wide range of topics that are relevant to living a successful life. It does not matter whether Napoleon is speaking to THE Devil, or whether he has cleverly arranged his collection of personal wisdom into an attention grabbing two-way dialogue; you will find much food for thought. Though some of the information is duplicated in Hill’s more famous book, “Think and Grow Rich”, it is important enough to endure the redundancy.
I do not write to undermine the efforts and expertise of excellent teachers in either the academic or religious arenas. I am sure that most would acknowledge that they do not like the constraints that they must adhere to while influencing America’s youth. As a parent looking to the past, I see how I could’ve helped my children focus more on some of the core truths of life. I can’t change what I did or didn’t do,
Following are direct quotes from either Mr. Hill or his Devil. My commentary is found in the bullet points.
“…Parents owe their children everything they can give them in the way of knowledge. Beyond that, parents often spoil their offspring by a false sense of duty which prompts them to indulge their children instead of forcing them to seek and gain knowledge at first hand.”**
- Today, I am reflecting on the “launching” of my second and final daughter. My feelings vacillate between guilt and exhilaration. Her imminent relocation causes me a mixture of sadness, excitement and victory. The prevailing emotions are the excitement that her future will bring and the victory that this phase of my parenting has been completed successfully. While I do feel a bit of guilt for my part in thrusting her into the great unknown, I know that she will learn far more outside of my care than she would ever learn from her safe place at home. I pledge to always share the knowledge of my experience with her even while she is learning to navigate life without me.
“…Unearned gifts of every nature may become a curse instead of a blessing*
- This point makes me think of this week’s news story about the 30-year-old man who is being evicted from his parents’ home. I’m sure that his parents never imagined that the “unearned gift” of physically sheltering their grown son would turn into a contentious and public legal battle.
“Why aren’t children taught definiteness of purpose in the public schools?”*
- According to the Devil, school is a place to memorize facts and earn credits. I appreciate the opportunities for the education I was given. However, many of the facts that I memorized and subsequently forgot have not helped me in my daily pursuit of living. (Note to math haters: I do still use algebra). It has taken me many years past my formal education to hone in on my definite purpose. Definiteness of purpose can be found though reading and participating in a variety of activities. We can help our children find theirs by looking for their natural gifts and guiding them towards pursuits that harmonize with those gifts.
“Ideas are the beginning of all human achievement. Teach all students how to recognize practical ideas that may be of benefit in helping them acquire whatever they demand of life”. **
- Never stop yourself or your child from imagining. Every conceivable invention that is used to make our lives easier began as an idea in the mind of someone. Google Maps, FaceTime, cell phones, personal computers, and televisions are used by most of us each day. What if the parents of the inventors of these items had squelched their ideas? Try to nurture fresh new ideas with “how can you” rather than “you cannot”.
“Teach the student the basic motives by which all people are influenced and show how to use these motives in acquiring the necessities and the luxuries of life.”**
- Everyone needs to learn how to sell. Even though every person is not a professionally trained salesperson, we all have something to sell each day. As an employment candidate, we need to use a resume’ to sell ourselves as the best candidate for a job. As a person looking to choose a mate, what do we have to offer that another potential suitor might not? As a parent, we may try to sell the idea that choosing broccoli over chips is good for the body. If your child doesn’t know what to study in school, encourage him to study salesmanship.
“Teach children the difference between temporary defeat and failure, and show them how to search for the seed of an equivalent advantage which comes with every defeat.”**
- I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. It is not always easy to tell what the reason may be, but I always try to learn the lesson. Every mistake I have made has planted inside me an inexorable seed of wisdom. The value of this wisdom is far greater than if I had simply done everything I was told just because I was told to do so.
- I would also want my children to understand that failure comes in more than one form. The failure to try is far worse than trying something new and not succeeding. Risk aversion can cheat us out of living our best life by not allowing us to take the next step forward.
“Teach children to reach decisions promptly and to change them, if at all, slowly and with reluctance, and never without a definite reason.”**
- This one is still difficult for me personally. I am a proponent of the “Love and Logic” philosophy of parenting. https://www.loveandlogic.com The premise is that a child should be given lots of opportunities to make decisions from the time they are young and then allow the consequences to be the teacher when the stakes are minimal. This habit of making every day small decisions will provide confidence to make the big decisions when also armed with pertinent information, thought and sometimes collaborative discussion.
“Teach children the true nature of the Golden Rule, and above all show them that through the operation of this principle, everything they do to and for another they do also to and for themselves.”**
- This quote reminds me of a complementary quote from the late Zig Ziglar. “You can have everything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want.” The other thing that comes up for me is that when I went back to college as an adult about 10 years ago, I took multiple classes on religion and philosophy. I can’t tell you all of the theories and distinctions between each philosopher. My take away was that regardless of the philosophical or religious message, it all boiled down to the Golden Rule to treat others the way we wish to be treated.
“Teach children the danger of believing anything merely because their parents, religious instructor, or someone else said it is so.”**
- My personal motto is “trust but verify”. I, like many people, always believed what my parents and those in authority taught me was absolute truth. What I have since realized is that what I was taught was their truth as they believed at the time.
“Teach children that their only real limitations are those which they set up or permit others to establish in their own minds.”**
- I can relate to this one. I have gone through life with self-imposed limits up until this point. These limits are firmly entrenched over a lifetime. Sometimes I look at others and wonder how they got to be where they are and have what they have. Did they have more advantages and more connections than me? That is quite possibly the truth. But it is not the complete truth. What I may have lacked in personal advantage I have made up for in stubborn persistence. Every day, I work to free myself from my prison of perception. My daughter, recently armed with her business degree, will be moving very soon to a town that doesn’t have an abundant variety of jobs. I encourage her to refuse to be limited by the help wanted ads to find her livelihood. I implore her to speak her truth and immerse herself in her passion. Though the non-profit she is interested in is not local, I do not want her to assume that she cannot find a way to contribute to the cause that is so important to her.
“Teach children that all schoolhouses and all textbooks are elementary implements which may be helpful in the development of their minds, but that the only school of real value is the great University of Life wherein one has the privilege of learning from experience,”**
- I went back to college in my forties to complete my formal education. What I realized as an adult student was that no matter how much I learned, it was merely the tip of the iceberg. When I finally finished my formal education, I just knew I was done learning. Following a few years of stagnation, I discovered the folly of my thinking. My more mature and wiser self realizes that learning is truly a lifelong pursuit. My classroom learning days may be over, but I choose to learn until the end of my time. Thinking is a gift which, when done consistently, can propel one towards their definite major purpose. Provide situations to imbed this worthy gift into your children.
The points I have chosen were few compared to what I found in the book. I didn’t intend to regurgitate as much as I did directly from the book, but it was so hard to choose since there were so many relevant points! While our current educational system may not have the flexibility to incorporate the suggested changes, parents have the power to introduce them into daily life. Consider private schooling or home schooling. Ultimately, we all have the primary control to shape the minds of our own children.
*Direct quote from Napoleon Hill
**Direct quote from Napoleon Hill’s Devil