I first saw W. Clement Stone when I was a junior or senior in college and attended a meeting of the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) meeting where he was the featured speaker. He was there at the request of Dr. Walter Fremont, the Dean of the School of Education and one of the teachers who most influenced my teaching career.
Stone lived and taught what he and Napoleon Hill called success through a positive mental attitude (PMA), which closely resembled Dr. Fremont’s trademark positive faith attitude (PFA). So strongly did Fremont believe in PMA, or PFA, that several weeks before Stone’s guest appearance before the ACT, he had distributed to all his upper-level education majors a copy of Stone and Hill’s book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. I devoured the book in a matter of days, my nose stuck in its pages when I should have been studying for my classes.
There’s a derogatory statement that “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” But that was neither Stone nor Fremont. In teaching a positive attitude, both men lived what they taught. They were living exemplars of their philosophy. (I summarized how Fremont did it in an earlier post on this blog. See the post of June 29, 2017.)
Stone was born on May 4, 1902. His father died when Stone was only 3 years old, leaving his family in debt. His mother, a dressmaker, could hardly make ends meet, so Stone got a job hawking Examiner newspapers on the streets of Chicago when he was 6. But he quickly realized that if he was to make a profit in competition with the numerous older and bigger newsboys, he’d have to find some other way than on the street corners. He decided to try selling papers to the patrons of fine restaurants. After all, they had the money, they were not busy with anything else and might enjoy reading the paper while they dined, and no other newsboys were selling there.
The first time he tried to sell in a restaurant, he sold only one paper before the manager angrily tossed him out. He waited until the manager was busy with an influx of customers and reentered the restaurant. That time, he sold three papers before being kicked out. Undeterred, he persisted in entering that and other restaurants, selling more papers each time. Although the managers were all perturbed with him and perplexed as to how to end his intrusions, the patrons loved him. They admired his “politeness, charm, and persistence,” and they finally convinced the managers to allow him to sell there regularly. So successful was he that he hired several smaller boys to sell for him, always doing so politely. By the time Stone was 13, he owned his own newsstand.
When Stone was 16, he dropped out of school and moved with his mother to Detroit, where he helped his mother run an insurance agency. With only $100, he started his own agency, the Combined Insurance Company, at the age of 20, and by 1930, he had 1,000 agents working for him. He had a strong desire to succeed, and his thinking was heavily influenced by his reading habit. He read the rags-to-riches books by Horatio Alger (pictured below a sampling of his books) and was always reading books aimed at self-improvement. And he practiced what he learned from those books. He was strongly convinced that one’s success or failure depended on his attitude. By 1979, his company’s assets topped $1 billion.
But Stone was also convinced that one’s success depended on living by the Golden Rule (not unlike J.C. Penney, whose life was covered in an earlier blog post, too) and carried an obligation to help others succeed. He began helping others through his motivational speaking and writing and his philanthropic endeavors, giving millions of dollars to educational and religious causes.
When Stone spoke to the ACT members the night I heard him, I was at the hall before the doors opened. I got an aisle seat about two rows back on the left side facing the stage. A few minutes before the program was to begin, a distinguished-looking gentleman in a dark suit and a large black bow-tie and sporting a pencil-thin black moustache sat down in the front row seat diagonally across the aisle from me. I immediately recognized W. Clement Stone from the photo on the dust jacket of his book. I could have stretched forward and across the aisle and touched him, but I dared not. My heart raced with anticipation of his speech.
Dr. Fremont opened the meeting and introduced Stone, and, amid polite applause (I don’t think most of the attendees in the standing-room-only crowd realized who their guest speaker was), Stone made his way with firm, determined steps to the podium.
After offering a brief thank-you to Dr. Fremont for his invitation to speak and his introduction of him, Stone launched calmly and without notes into his speech about how we could be successful teachers upon graduation. It probably lasted no more than 20 minutes, but I remember only two things that he said.
First, he explained what he called his “R2A2 Principle”: Recognize, Relate, Assimilate, and Apply. Then, near the conclusion, he said, “The real key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to. . . .”
Here he paused, as though waiting for our ears and minds to catch up with his deep statement. Finally, he finished: “think.”
He paused again before repeating his statement: “The key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to think!”
He stood starkly immovable and stared out at the faces before him. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
“Think!” he repeated. Then he turned slowly from the podium and strode with measured tread across the platform, and with every step he said, “Think!” He stepped slowly and deliberately down the two steps off the platform and across the front of the hall to his seat near me, still repeating with each step, “Think! Think! Think!” As he plopped elegantly into the seat, he called out a final time, “THINK!”
After what seemed like a long time, during which the audience sat in stunned silence and Stone stared straight ahead, the place erupted in thunderous applause.
AT the time, I left disappointed, let down, unfulfilled. I had taken valuable time from my busy schedule to hear this great, successful man, and that’s all he had to say? But the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized the truth of what Stone said that night.
Stone was basing his philosophy on what he often called “the world’s greatest self-help book,” the Bible. He believed, as Proverbs 23:7 states, “As he [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Fill your heart and mind with good, positive, faith-filled thoughts, and you will produce good, positive, faith-building words and deeds that will produce a truly successful life, no matter what your calling.
As I’ve read and studied Stone’s philosophy over the years, I haven’t always agreed with him on everything, and I’ve seen many people use his principles to pursue pure materialism and teach a heretical “health-and-wealth gospel” that is not the true gospel of the Bible. But as a teacher, I used–and continue to use–his R2A2 Principle and continually try to encourage and motivate my mind and spirit with his PMA and Dr. Fremont’s PFA ideas.
Stone died on September 4, 2002, at the age of 100. He had overcome early hardships, developed a vision and set goals for achieving it, practiced habits of hard work, survived the Depression, built a business empire, motivated others to succeed, and gave millions of dollars to worthy causes. He left a wife, a son (one of three children), 12 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. And he left the rest of us an example. But when I hear his name, my first thought is that single word that in my mind defined W. Clement Stone: “THINK!”
[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]