Better Angels of Our Nature

December 1, 2020

At this time in our lives, with a pandemic surging and a politically polarized society, we, in the USA and worldwide, need to summon the better angels of our nature to come together in union. As Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the U.S. Civil War stated at the end of his inaugural address in 1861, “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 battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearth-stone, 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.” I have always wanted to heed this call. The phrase lifts me up and asks me to be a bigger self. More about this phrase here and here and here.

I was recently on a Zoom call where the discussion focused on acknowledging a deep sadness in so many of us – and how we are holding that feeling of sadness along with such a deep love and wish to connect to others especially as we seem so torn apart at this moment. Mask wearing/not mask wearing. Winners/Losers. Us/Them. The discussion went into how we don’t talk to each other but about how groups talk at or about the other. One woman spoke of her conservative stances and how judged she often felt in more liberal spaces. She said very clearly how there are people who do ugly things everywhere. No… I immediately thought. Moi? Ugly? Nah. My friends, nah…

The minute I get that startled by a statement is the minute I know it is time to look in the mirror. I am author of an upcoming book titled, Growing Up in the Workplace: Being On Your Learning Edge. And that comment and that reminder that I too can do ugly things put me very much on my learning edge. I had to admit it. I could be ugly with my language, with my non-verbals, and no doubt in other ways as well. Ugh. Grumble. Yup. Sigh.

The next morning I was in a new conversation again about how disconnected we all are. One person asserted that not being connected is very ‘USA of us’ as we are is product (not process) focused country. Profit, content creation, project completion – that’s what we do here. I agreed. Thank you Blue Apron, Amazon Prime and others. I love and appreciate transactions and purchases and moving forward efficiently.

AND yet, how is that working for us? To be so focused on product that we ignore process? What I think we need at this time is not more transactions but more transformation. More emphasis on process and on being with each other in the present tense. While decision making is good, exploring perspectives is also good. While doing is wonderful, being is sometimes the way to go. It isn’t either-or but maybe a little more of a both-and. We are needing to emphasize the grey where black and white have taken been center stage. We must shift.

Perhaps the better angels of our nature are whispering to us to focus a bit more on the how, not just the what. Focus more on connection and belonging, and not just outcome and result. Focus on the grey, not just the black and white of life. This change is going to require us to learn how to suspend our certainty, and take great personal responsibility -to learn how to better speak humanely and compassionately with others. Many of us don’t have a lot of experience doing that hard work of connecting across difference of so many kinds – political, racial, international. We are on a learning edge. We must learn how to talk to each other. It’s worth it.

Disruption is a scary word for many but we need to change up the way we talk to each other. We need to rent the idea of placing energy, time and resources into increasing our ability to listen and speak humanely to those see the world differently than we do. We need to emphasize process, not just product.

We are acutely, profoundly, inextricably connected. We must join together with deep respect for one another. I am listening to the ‘better angels.’ I invite you to join me.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at Jennifer@jenniferabrams.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cool Resources

Solving Not Attacking Complex Problems “There are healthy alternatives to this aggressive approach to problem solving. But before detailing a five-stage process, let’s observe for a moment the sea of aggressive energy in which we swim blindly.”

Braver Angels -“Our work is about restoring civic trust in the USA. It is about healing the wounds between left and right. It is about challenging institutions to be better, building community together, and discovering what it means to be American in our time. Our work is about supporting a more perfect union. Our work is about inspiring the beloved community. At Braver Angels, our work is about building a house united.”

I participated in a CCT Community Open House: Fall 2020 Online Dialogues on Reflective Practice in a Changing World hosted by UMass Boston’s Graduate Program in Critical and Creative Thinking. We used this process. Dialogue Process “The Dialogue Process centers around listening—to yourself as well as others. Shared and personal meaning emerges within a group through listening to what is said from a standpoint of inquiry and reflection (Isaacs 1999).”

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's latest book is Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her previous publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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