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.
– First Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln, 1861 Mar 4

The Battle of Fort Sumter, the spark that lit the Civil War, came just five weeks after Lincoln’s eloquent plea on the day he assumed the Presidency. That’s something for all speechwriters to think about with some humility.

And yet, words do matter.

What we’ve been watching for four years, and what we saw explode last week, is a paradox: a political and informational system that profits from division and conflict, and uses a factory-style process to stimulate it, but professes shock and horror when real conflict happens. It’s time to admit this is a failed system.
You can’t sell hatred and seriously expect it to end.
Matt Taibbi, We Need a New Media System

There are no quick and easy fixes for the things that ail us as nations: nor, for that matter, as individuals. There is no fix at all, in the sense of “full” or “final.” But maybe the right words can light our path as we struggle to act more in accordance with those better angels of our nature.

We are not enemies, but friends.

Maybe the right words can help us reach for forgiveness not judgement, reconciliation not revenge, understanding not hatred, and humility not self-righteousness.

We must not be enemies.

Maybe the right words can help us stop feeding a “political and informational system that profits from division and conflict” and start feeding our communities.

You can’t sell hatred and seriously expect it to end.



Thanks to Father Raymond J. de Souza whose article kicked this off.

This entry was posted in Feeling Clearly, Politics and Policy, Relationships and Behaviour, Thinking Broadly and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Our Better Angels

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Yes, words do matter.
    When I was in first year of University in 1973, one course I took was Journalism. The professor was Wilson Bryan Key, author of “Subliminal Seduction” about how we are manipulated in advertising.

    He told about spending some time as a speech writer for President Eisenhower. He said he didn’t deal with the President directly, would turn his speech in to aides. They would frequently come back to him and say, “You need to fuzzy this section up a bit.” The issue was that the President needed to be able to say, “I didn’t mean what you are implying. I meant such and such.” There had to be room for plausible deniability.

    Words of hate are still words of hate, no matter how much you try to deny that’s what you meant.


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – I’d say what Eisenhower wanted was “constructive ambiguity” – sometimes a good thing (or at least OK), sometimes (more often?) abused by weasels. Too often it’s used to avoid being tied down to one position or to avoid being held accountable for a clear promise. And that’s without even getting into hate . . .

  2. barbara carlson says:

    Hate? No. Accountability? Yes. Words have consequences, but so do actions.

    But I doubt Trump will pardon en masse these rioters/insurrectionists/just looking for the bathroom/shit disturbers (literally) people. It would be out of character for him — they didn’t succeed. They are losers and now “dead” to him.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yes, we need dispassionate accountability. I’m not sure we’re “wired” for that, but we have to try.

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