Are we afraid of our "better angels?"
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Abraham Lincoln — First Inaugural Address
Monday, March 4, 1861
I always try to see possibilities for creating a beneficial future. Looking at life in this way, I often see positive scenarios where logic or uncertainty might dictate otherwise. At the foundation of this outlook is a heart that looks for the good, and the conviction that humans can improve their lives and culture through conscious choices that promote cooperation. In addition, I believe that life progresses through a chain of transformations, both individually and collectively. Thus, we experience tests: disasters, conflicts, risks, fears and reconciliations that aim to foster our evolving psychological maturity, sense of community, sense of self, and happiness. My optimism is not naïveté, rather, it is a consequence of imagining what is possible if people tap into their latent spirit of goodwill.
When President Obama was elected in 2008 I wrote the day following his election:
I am elated. Today I would simply like to add my voice to the many, many eloquent commentaries that have followed this historic night. Words of optimism, happiness and excitement about our political process have been absent for so long. It is also a sober moment as we contemplate what this election means for the feelings and responsibilities of our citizens….
While for many this election was a right of passage to a new political culture reflecting a new psychological maturity, and a new national identity, we must continue to reach out to those disaffected and clouded by fear and hate in our country. The joy on the diverse faces of those celebrating the election of Barack Obama throughout our country and the world must not instill us with a false sense of euphoria. In addition, we must continue our activism and continue to make our voices heard in support of the causes that are important for human and global well-being. We must likewise not let any falsehoods stand unanswered. If this election was a graduation from one stage of national being to the next, it is important to remember the characterization of a graduation as a “commencement.”
From: "Are we ready for the future?"
The second paragraph in the above quote proposes continuing our activism and not letting falsehoods stand unanswered. It is a call to exercise the potential of building strong communities based on concern for each other and trust. Sadly, in many quarters just the opposite is occurring.
Against this call stand politicians, corporations, and their pet TV and Radio alter-egos, eager to stir up people's fears, hopelessness, and hatreds in troubled times. They play for power and popularity by their unwillingness to cooperate on solutions, or come up with constructive alternatives to the President's policies aimed to solve urgent economic social and environmental crises.
The "nay-sayers" in Congress portray their obstruction as righteous rebellion to make themselves populist heroes. Clothed in "Tea Party" patriotism, they orchestrate and fund dissatisfaction, magnifying it with falsehoods and attacks. Through unfounded irrational fear mongering and ugly slogans, they make people feel threatened and unhappy. Their devotees thus end up fighting the very people and policies that are conceived with their well-being in mind.
The "better angels" of our nature exist within our psyche, and also are embodied in people who are motivated to act for the common good of humanity. When people silence their own, inner "angels" then they are not receptive to the appeals of the "angels" throughout the community and the world who are serving humanity and striving to improve life. It is tragic that in rejecting the voice in their heart they listen to voices that reinforce and justify their doubts, fears, hatreds, and the resulting self-centeredness that fractures the sense of community.
To cope with this tragic scenario of unhappiness, people band together in churches and political associations that preach and act to erode a positive and balanced political future, and cast suspicion upon all those who are different than themselves, or hold different points of view. Thus we see in the daily news, demonstrations against President Obama that have more to do with what is different about him and ignore what is in his heart (a common ground that they might share).
When Obama walks the tightrope of the presidency across the abyss of problems confronting our nation and the world, the unhappy, disaffected, and inflexible people of all political shades would rather give him a push into the abyss than give their helping hands. What is it in the psyche of the body politic that prefers Obama's (and hence our nation's) failure to solutions that will help us begin to solve our problems, fulfill our needs, reach our goals, and manifest the potentials of our nation's abilities and creed? A psychologist would call the hatred, rhetoric and distrust driving such opposition a symptom of paranoia or a suicidal tendency!
Before the 2008 presidential election I wrote about the power of tribalism as a force shaping peoples' attitudes and behaviors. I felt that this election was a test that could create a transformational change in our national identity and sense of allegiance.
If Americans choose Obama, a candidate with a foreign name and a minority race to be their leader, they will have crossed a threshold of consciousness that will demonstrate a break with old tribal identifications. This will in fact and in symbol show a new standard of leadership to the world, which could promote the healing of ethnic and religious causes of injustice and conflict.
From: "Tribalism and the 2008 Presidential Election"
The above was written as an ideal that Obama's election would indeed have the effect of evoking our "better angels" as individuals and as a nation. It was perhaps successful in doing this with his campaign of hope, resonating with some inner values that characterize America's soul. Our motto of e pluribus unum — out of many, one — could manifest nationally as embracing the unity in our diversity.
The reality of Obama's election, however, morphed into divisiveness as people wondered, "what have we done?" driven by the fictional narratives and manipulations of special interests and bigoted demagogues. Rather than turning their anger against our president, people should be resentful of those who would tempt them to deny, fear and go against the values of their "better angels."
© 2010 Richard