Lately, I’ve heard Lincoln’s famous lines quoted by Congressmen and citizens alike. Just as America was dividing before the Civil War, so too, is our America of today.
People have taken sides more out of comfort than attachment to certain values. We have those who voted for Trump and those who didn’t. People identify as Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, “reds”, “blues” and sometimes peace-loving “purples.” There are those who are outraged and those who simply don’t care anymore.
So what did Lincoln mean by “the better angels of our nature”?
I think that he was calling on people to look deep inside themselves and put forth their best civil behavior. By this, I mean respect, calm, and seeking to understand how to work together to solve problems.
When things get bad, I try to find a way to plug into the flow of positive energy. When I heard about an organization called Better Angels, I decided to contact them.
I learned that their mission is to “build new ways to talk to one another … and influence the direction of the nation.” They do this by bringing “reds” and “blues” together in workshops. The process helps them to rebuild trust and understanding. It sounded good.
To make a long story short, I was able to bring them to my community as part of their Fall Tour from Washington, D.C. to Nashville, Tennessee. On the evening of November 11th, I witnessed 8 “reds” (conservatives) and 8 “blues” (progressives) actually listen to each other. They tried to understand the other side before sharing their own views.
First, they met in separate groups and examined stereotypes about their group. They tried to find a “kernel of truth” in them. Then they calmly told the other group why the stereotypes were wrong and what was true instead.
People were kind to each other and listened carefully. They began to empathize with the individuals on the “other side.”
Next, they listened to each group talk about concerns they had about the country and what they would like to see happen. It was interesting to see people discover points of agreement or common ground.
During the breaks, people talked in mixed groups and were eager to get to know one another. By the end of the evening, some people expressed feelings of surprise and more openness. Others were willing to pursue new friendships. Some wanted to bring more people to workshops like this.
“People are hard to hate close up,” writes Brené Brown in her new book Braving the Wilderness. I saw this first hand that night.
What do you think? Do you see these divisions in your country?
Do you try to get to know and understand people who think differently than you do?
Would you like to learn more about the skills used to “talk across the political divide”?
Let me know. I’m developing some lesson guides based on what I’ve learned in my training as a Better Angels Citizen Instructor and Citizen Moderator. You can contact me via email or use the contact form on this website.