Unleashing Our Better Angels

In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln reflected on the divisions then tearing the nation apart. He said, “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 will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Lincoln’s words tap into a timeless wisdom. Every generation will always be forced to respond to a previously unimaginable challenge—sometimes even more than one at the same time. Ours, of course, is the ongoing and evolving pandemic. While the Delta variant of the COVID virus is causing a new surge in suffering, we also need not look far to find the “better angels of our nature.”

We find them in hospital rooms, ICU wards, schools, and any place where people have to step up every day to care for others, but that’s not all. Every time someone gets vaccinated and every time someone masks up, the better angels of our nature multiply.

Despite all the bad news of a new surge (including increasing severe cases among youth), the good news is that the majority of Americans are choosing to respond with their better angels. More Americans are vaccinated than not. More and more people are masking up. More and more people are recognizing that what we see happening in places like Missouri will not magically stop at the border. More and more people are again waking up to the reality that we must all do our part to beat this pandemic.

A recent Ipsos/USA Today poll found that 72% of Americans said that this simple idea of the common good outweighs narrow views of personal liberty when it comes to the issuance of mask mandates. There is nothing surprising about these poll numbers. Americans do, by and large, care about one another. While the good news is that most people want to do their part to protect their neighbors and their children (many of whom cannot yet get vaccinated), the frustrating news is that too many of our elected leaders are lagging behind.

It goes without saying that all of us want to trust each other to do the right thing. The fact is, however, that we do not just trust people to not race down Mulberry Avenue at 100 mph. We do not just trust people to not pollute our waterways. While we value the common good, we have never operated under the assumption that everyone will choose to make decisions that are respectful of their neighbors and their health and well-being.

In 1861, Lincoln appealed to “the better angels of our nature.” Today, we face our own unique challenge. For the sake of all those people who are most vulnerable, including our children, may all of us—national, state, and local leaders included—step up once more and allow those “better angels of our nature” to guide us onward.