In this post, I’ll share a couple of passages from The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, as well as a passage in Richard Reeves’ President Nixon: Alone in the White House. The topic is Richard Nixon’s introversion and how he preferred not to deal with people.
On page 31 of The Final Days, we read: “Haldeman was so concerned about this predilection of Nixon’s to retreat into himself that he spent the days immediately before and after his resignation as chief of staff trying to find his own successor. The new White House chief of staff had to be someone who would oppose Nixon’s preference for dealing with paper rather than people. He had to be capable of presenting to the President a full range of options for each decision, of knowing how and when to ignore Nixon’s intemperate orders.”
On page 37, we read: “The President would not deal directly with people or events. He preferred papers: memos didn’t talk back, didn’t push him.”
And on page 12 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves states:
“He had learned how to act. Nixon had memorized his lines, as he had memorized hundreds of pieces of music in order to play the piano—-all of them in the key of G. He was not a natural; it was all hard, lonely work. He also memorized entire speeches, working alone from notes, then throwing away the paper. He did the same thing with conversations, working from little scripts he committed to memory. He once said of himself: ‘I’ve found a way to do it. I’m a reader, not a buller. Most of the boys at the law school had long bull sessions about cases. I studied my cases alone.'”
So end the readings!
I’d now like to comment about where I identify with these portrayals of Nixon, and where I differ.
1. I prefer to communicate via e-mail rather than person-to-person.
2. At the same time, I find that I learn things better by listening to people speak rather than through reading books. Because of my social struggles, I tend to lean more heavily on reading books. But I find that I learn things that change my outlook, and that I remember things a lot longer, when I hear them spoken by another human being. This is true in terms of attending classes, and also having conversations with colleagues.
3. At the same time, classes and conversations only skim the surface of any given topic, and that’s why it’s important for me to learn by reading—-since there is a lot more information out there in books and articles.
4. I find that person-to-person interaction with colleagues makes me more familiar with resources that are out there, whereas I probably would not be as familiar with these resources all on my own. Is this because, on my own, I’m not sure what exactly I should be looking for—-I don’t know what to google to access what may help me? That’s probably part of it.
5. There are times when I prefer to learn by snuggling up with a book. But there are other times when I would prefer for people to summarize something for me, so that I don’t have to plow through a document and do heavy-duty analysis. On some level, I can identify with different Presidents’ modes of operation (as I understand them, based on what I have heard or read): Richard Nixon preferring to read, Ronald Reagan wanting briefer documents or movies that conveyed information, Bill Clinton digesting policy books and picking the brains of intellectuals, and George W. Bush preferring to be briefed.
6. One reason that I like to read is that the book or article does not answer me back. I have problems with being challenged in person-to-person interaction because I am not quick enough on my feet to respond to what people say to me. Of course, one can be challenged online, as well, in online discussions. I don’t particularly care for that, either, even though I have to admit that I have learned from such discussions, and have modified my views in response to some of them (while my views have hardened in reaction to others of them). I’m all for learning, but not so much within a context in which I can take things personally: when I can lose face, or be considered stupid or inferior. Consequently, I’m all for reading and hearing different perspectives—-by reading books, or listening to radio programs, or watching YouTube videos—-in a manner that does not involve my interaction with a human being who can talk (or write) back, when I can simply read, and make my own evaluation of what I just read.
7. Some may criticize my post here, saying that I should adapt to the world, rather than expecting it to adapt to me. I’m all for that, on some level, but I think that it’s all right for me to take a look at my strengths and my weaknesses, so that I can use the former, while compensating for the latter. Moreover, over the years, I’ve heard so many students bellyaching about their learning styles in classes, so I don’t feel guilty talking about my own learning styles. If others can do that, why can’t I?