How often do you interact with your rivals?

I became enamored with the (U.S.) Civil War and Abraham Lincoln in 10th grade when I was required to read The Killer Angels  by Michael Shaara (author, not my teacher). In case you’re not familiar with it, it recounts the Battle of Gettysburg and since then I’ve probably read another ten books or so related to Lincoln or the war. In December I saw (and loved) the movie Lincoln. Thanks to the  credits I saw it was based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham

If you haven’t seen the book, it’s 754 pages of text (not that I checked, oh say, 754 times how long it was) with an additional 162 pages of notes and references. This is a book I’ve meant to read for ages but haven’t for all of the reasons excuses you can imagine. However, seeing Lincoln and knowing there is no way that I am hauling that book across the ocean twice, it was time to either put up or shut up.

Once again, I am grateful for sitting at the feet of history, and President Lincoln in particular as I read this page turner. Generally speaking, you can guess what the book was about, so no surprises there. However, Lincoln provided four takeaways that are timeless when it comes to interacting with people.

1. The importance of a comprehensive view. There is a reason this book is 754 pages! It starts with the background of the four candidates for the Republican party and goes to the assassination of Lincoln. Though I’ve read fairly extensively on the subject, because the topic is so massive, many books focus on one aspect. That is fine and good! But this book reminded me of the importance of taking the time to get the full story and the difference it can make when it comes to interacting with people.

2. The importance of timing. Lincoln understood that he couldn’t rush too far ahead of people and expect them to stay with him. He was patient and had the long view in mind. He knew when to wait, when to nudge, when to call in a favor, when to cast vision, and when to insist. Just because I might want a person or situation to be at a certain point, at times the better question isn’t “are were there?” but “do I know where we are headed? and am I willing to take the long view?”

3. The importance of knowing when to cut your loses. President Lincoln was not perfect and sometimes trusted people when it was clear that they had consistently violated his trust. General McClellan was such a man and because Lincoln wasn’t able to remove McClellan earlier than he did, it cost both sides dearly as that decision prolonged the war and resulted in the death of thousands. Sadly,  and paradoxically, not all people or relationships are equal. If trust has repeatedly been violated, it’s time to evaluate the amount and type of interactions to have.

4. By far the greatest lesson for me was the importance of building a team of rivals. I mentioned that Goodwin begins the book with a  look at the four Republican candidates; she did this because Lincoln invited all three of the to be a part of his cabinet. He built one of the most diverse cabinets with former Whigs, Democrats, a range of views on State vs. Federal rights, and views on slavery and post-war reconstruction.

I have been challenged by how many “rivals” do I work with (or truly know, for that matter). Rivals in the sense of have different ideas, but still willing to work together. Lincoln’s cabinet was no gathering of yes men or women. They all knew where the buck stopped, but they also knew that as a group they were better for their diversity. I know that “diversity” is a bit of a buzz word now and I hesitate in using it. That being said, I truly believe it is important to know, interact with, and love those who may be “rivals,” and especially at work.

I’m wondering what other gems I’m missing out on by avoiding books because of their size!

Have you read Team of Rivals? Which of these four is the hardest for you? What book have you putting off reading?


  1. The first of your takeaway is definitely the hardest for me. While I relish interaction with people who have different – even opposing – views of mine, I find myself time and time again getting bogged down and enmeshed in the details of the moment and thus lose sight of the larger view.

    • Mike, that’s a helpful insight. In those moments, I can feel my heart start pumping and need to remind myself to calm down :). Doesn’t always work!

  2. Mark Allman says:


    I have that book and have not read it all yet. Lincoln is my favorite historical character. I do think we view rivals negative most to the time but in reality they are the people who keep us on our toes and make us better for it. I do not like dealing with people who are hard to deal with and who want to challenge me but it usually is good for me to have to do this. I think we prepare better if we think we are going to be in a battle than if we think people will go along because they like us. I think we need to work on this more and not give our friends second best and trade on their friendship.

    I also do not think we should take advantage of friendships in the sense of asking for a deal based on it.(an example if they own a business) I think we should not expect friends will give us a better price on an item and so forth. I know it happens but we should not let someone suffer to do so. We should be generous with our friends always.

    We have a tendency to surround ourselves with and only interact with people that are like us. This can be a problem I think in the sense we are not challenged so often with ideas that are radically different than our own or ideas that are not moral but totally different in view. We are less if we do so.

    I am going to challenge myself this week to seek out someone not like me and maybe someone I view as negative and see if I can interact with them and see what happens.

    • Mark, I agree completely that there is a world of difference between those who “keep us on our toes” and those who are just plumb difficult! And yes, yes, yes to being generous with our friends too. Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

  3. In some ways many of the people I interact with here are “rivals.” I am often challenged, in a good way, to see the church, God, myself, others ,and life in the Body in a way I haven’t seen them before. The challenges have enlarged my heart, deepened my worship, increased my longing to draw near to the Father, and deepened my appreciation for the many facets of glory-reflecting Body of Christ.

  4. In my old job, I was trained for the specifics of my role via a mentorship with an experienced business analyst. We had a great working relationship and I learned so much from this person. However, the moment I become a peer, I also became a rival in this person’s eyes. Almost overnight we went from collaboration to conflict. The sad thing is that I believe had we continued working closely together, we could have made an amazing team. She saw things in a way I never could and vice versa.

    • This is a good reminder to me … am I as collaborative as I need to be? Or is there more an element of conflict, when there doesn’t need to be one! Thanks Lizzie :)

  5. Wow! Great. I just learned a lesson somewhat like this, reading the comment sections on some apologetics books on amazon. (The things I sometimes do when I should be sleeping!)

    Every thing we Christians accuse our “opponents” of doing, we are even more guilty of. When I make a single sentence I believe to be true, I make it because of more than two decades of experience, observation, doubt, questioning, wondering, wrestling, etc. It should not be torn down and refuted in the quickest, easiest, and most efficient way possible. It should be recognized as the product of deeper thinking, and asked about. The exact same is true of every assertion of my “opponent”! (This is one huge pitfall of “quick answer” books like The Handbook to Christian Apologetics)

    On commenter talking about interacting Christians said, “Sometimes the discussion ends with: ‘Well you have to have faith in SOMETHING.’ The unspoken part being: “So why not my religion? Please validate me and my religious views.” If we actually trust in God and not our own understanding, we should feel no need to be validated in our religious views. We should feel a deep and genuine longing to be knocked off our high horse of knowing what’s what. We should WANT to be left crawling about in a mire of spiritual confusion, because we know we’ll find our Lord there in the mud.

    When interacting with “rivals” there should be a great deal more asking (of genuine and open questions!), and a great deal less refuting.


  1. […] Historically: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Can I tell you how much I feel restricted by only sharing one book? I believe it is important to read history (or be aware of it in some form). Context, context, context! Of the countries we come from, the countries we live in, the world that has been interacting long before the internet (do not get me going on how globalization is just now happening. Amy, focus!). You can read about how this book impacted me by clicking here. […]

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