The ‘Four Square’ Life: Found Wisdom

The ‘Four Square’ Life: Found Wisdom

by Kory Waschick

Whenever I come across an unexpected item offering a bit of wisdom that’s relevant today or that I can apply in my own life, it makes me smile.

In this case, it was a small book belonging to my father-in-law Walt, a retired marketing consultant with an agency background. A coated, cloth cover with an embossed checkerboard pattern and a silhouetted head, it was simply titled, “I Dare You!” I was struck by the design and couldn’t help but notice the address on the inner cover — Checkerboard Square, St. Louis, MO.

Coincidentally, the book had been written by William H. Danforth, the founder of Ralston Purina Company and I happened to be perusing the seventeenth edition, dated May, 1958.

With a little research, I learned that the first edition of this renowned ‘self-help’ book was actually published in 1931 — people have been using it for the better part of a century! Born in 1870, Danforth founded Ralston Purina in 1894. The company’s checkerboard logo that we know today actually relates to the principles of this book — his personal philosophy, the ‘Four Square’ life. He believed that each person has not one, but four lives to live: Physical, Mental, Social and Spiritual. The ingredients for life are a body, a brain, a heart and a soul, Danforth would say. All four must grow in balance with each other.

A very busy executive, Danforth avoided letting business crowd out a happy balance of living. He made no secret of the fact that he took his health seriously and would proudly relate that he had never lost a day at the office on account of illness. Walking a mile each day made him feel better, and his rule was to get eight hours of sleep a night with the windows open. He ate moderately and controlled his weight.

In the first few pages of the book, he states that health is the foundation for individual success and a nation’s progress. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’m completely focused on wellness and nutrition and realize how important it is to incorporate this into everyday life to remain productive. As a progressive thinker, Danforth was already on this path in 1931. What serendipity!

Written for both the individual’s personal and professional life, here are a few excerpts of Danforth’s self-help wisdom:

  • Daring people can’t afford not to think. The big prizes are for those who dare to think hard, to think often, to think creatively. Today, ideas get an audience immediately.
  • When you make a new contact it doesn’t take long to write a note showing that you appreciated it. It isn’t any gift you send, it’s the thought that goes with it that endears you to others.
  • Adventurous spirits will meet obstacles, but dare to map out a program of life with a sense of direction, but with no sense of obstacles.

So how did my father-in-law acquire this book? In the 1960’s, two Chicago-area ad firms, J. Walter Thompson and Foote, Cone & Belding offered employment to Walt. At the time, agencies sponsored training for promising young, new hires but J. Walter Thompson offered a more progressive leadership tool, and what they called the Dale Carnegie ‘charm school training.’

Walt passed along two key things he learned from this training and from the “I Dare You!” book:

  1. Understand who you are talking to and what's important to them. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Telling isn't selling — making yourself relevant to what is important to the other person is. 
  2. Don't be afraid to step forward. Without being arrogant, have the attitude that you are at least as good as the other person, and when you have a good thought, present it. 

Over the years, Walt has seen many bright people not get ahead because they were not bold in presenting their ideas at the right time. These people defeated themselves — they didn’t dare.

“Turn toward your strengths, not your weaknesses. Wake up in the morning thinking of ways to do things, rather than reasons why they can’t be done.” The book’s found wisdom has taught me a lot. And it’s shown me that I’m well on my way to leading a ‘Four Square’ life.