Every few months or so, I pick up my copy of Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. It hits me a bit different each time, but the story of Francis "Two Gun" Crowley kicks it off perfectly.
First, he has a badass nickname, especially for the 1930s. Second, for a book about learning interpersonal communication, Carnegie strategically drops you in the middle of a West End Avenue shoot-out in New York City. "Two Gun" Crowley, a career criminal and cop killer, found himself surrounded by a hundred and fifty policemen firing machine-guns into his sweetheart's apartment where he hid behind a couch.
And when the end seemed near, Crowley made an effort to scribble down a note from the heart. He wrote, "to whom it may concern, under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one - one that would do nobody any harm.”
Even when sentenced to the electric chair, Crowley didn't give in. He said, "This is what I get for defending myself."
It felt all too familiar when I read a recent WIRED article on Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of one of the most spectacular start-up frauds ever created (with a company value of "up to $9 billion without a working product"). It was an interesting take on the Holmes story and how her justification has not yet been fully revealed.
But a smaller section on another fraud, Bernie Madoff, echoed the sentiment of "Two Gun" Crowley. In the WIRED article, Virginia Heffernen writes:
To my mind, Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi virtuoso who was arrested in 2008, only came into focus in 2011, when Steve Fishman conducted a masterpiece jailhouse interview with him. In it, Madoff makes a clean breast of his crimes, but he also describes feeling, as he ran his fraud, ill-used by his clients. He sees himself as the victim of their tyrannical greed. They treated him like a slave, he complains. The clients, Fishman writes, “became giants of philanthropy, happy to take public bows, while, in his view, it was Bernie from Brooklyn who thanklessly drove the engine.”
This, after all, is the best starting point to understanding humans. No one is perfect. We're just doing our best telling ourselves stories.