I'm reading Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

There is a quote that says, "As much as we thirst for approval, we dread condemnation."

What's the meaning of this?


The author of the book was trying to elaborate that criticism is a bad idea.

How is this sentence related to criticism?

  • A little elaboration – about what exactly is confusing you – would not be a bad thing. – J.R. Feb 26 '13 at 16:30
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    Welcome to ELL, Timeless. What exactly is confusing you about this quote? Have you looked up the words you don't know in a dictionary? What did it say? – Martha Feb 26 '13 at 17:35
  • Rewrite the sentence: "We dread condemnation as much as we thirst for approval." – snailplane Feb 27 '13 at 1:12
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    Was the word "thirst" confusing you, or the "As much as ..." construction? – Andrew Grimm Feb 27 '13 at 1:52

As much as we thirst for approval, we dread condemnation means that we are afraid that other people might disapprove of us as much as we want them to approve of us.

In this context, thirst means to want something very badly, not that we need something to drink. Dread is great fear, and condemnation is strong disapproval.

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Carnegie is citing a quote from Hans Selye, but I'm inclined to think it doesn't have the exact sense of most statements using this well-established general format, which are normally along the lines of...

"As much as I love you, I can't leave my husband"
"As much as we want to, we just can't get married"
etc., etc.

...where As much as X, Y essentially means "Even though X is true/desirable, it is incompatible with Y. It's normally used in contexts with the strong additional implicit meaning Y is the overriding factor.

Selye was a Hungarian endocrinologist, much concerned with biological stress (which had not previously been significantly studied, or even recognised). Taking into account that background information, and Carnegie's likely intention in quoting the words, I think OP's quote is probably best interpreted literally, as simply saying our fear of condemnation and our desire for approval are equally strong conflicting urges.

That's to say, in this particular case, as much as probably really does mean to the same extent that, but normally it's a "set format" construction where the second "statement of fact" overrides the first "desire".

Noting OP's amendment that the quote was given in a context where Carnegie's main point was that "criticism is a bad idea", and the fact that it's in a book supposed to teach you how to win friends and influence people, I imagine he's advising against constructive criticism. That's popularly interpreted as being where you explain what people are doing wrong (so they can change, and thus improve). But you make more friends by ignoring what they're doing wrong, and praising what they do right.

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As easy I could say, the hunger to achieve something is the same as fear of failing to achieve that thing.

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