Archive for the 'better angels' Category

“The better angels of our nature”

September 12, 2011

Appealing to “the better angels of our nature” (Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861) is supposed to be a good thing, but for me it glosses over the difficult part: getting our usual selves and our better angels to communicate with each other.

I can communicate with someone’s better angels til the cows come home, without actually interfacing with the self with which that person identifies themselves and which they present to the outside world.  Of course, I can try communicating with that more ego-centered self by using a more ego-centered version of myself, but the ego-centered self and the better angels part of us need to be communicating with each other within ourselves internally in order for us to reach our potential; we’re going to be walking through the steps of our dance, I think (it reminds me of learning how to skip — yes, it’s a step-hop kind of action, but until it flows, it’s not skipping) if self and the “better angels” part of ourselves aren’t sufficiently integrated with each other.  The angelic part will be floating, the ego part will be crawling, so to speak.

If I’m only communicating with those better angels of the other person, and there’s inadequate connection between that person’s self and “better angels” aspect, I won’t have affected their behavior.  If I concentrate on their ego-self, whatever behavioral results I manage to elicit will be superficial and probably unreliable.  So, there’s a limit to what I can do if the person is disconnected from themselves.

How do people reconnect with their “better angels” aspect?  I think this may be where some people get stuck in regression, because in a way this connection is quite robust in children — the trick is to rediscover that connection with our “better angels” aspect that we had as children, without losing our emotional maturity that we’ve developed as adults.  As adults we know it’s not all about us, that we need to persevere, that there are setbacks, that successes usually rest on the contributions of many people, that other people’s needs are as important to them as ours are to us, etc.  We need to hold on to all that while regaining our openness, our receptiveness to listening to the universe, which we had as a child.

I think that processes like prayer and meditation allow us to recognize the multiple strands of ourselves, including our matured but limited-in-other-ways “monkey mind,” as well as that strand that is involved with our “better angels” aspect.  Maybe other people become aware of their “multiple selves” in other ways, like being aware of how they do art, sports, nature, music, or something else when they are fully immersed in it.

Some people I know come to the recognition of their better angels and their connection with the universe more generally through upheavals in their lives, events and experiences that crack the self and the heart wide open.  The problem there, I think, is whether the ego-centered self is sufficiently prepared to handle what comes flooding in.

For me, one of my problems is by-passing the ego-centered selves of others and relating instead, without realizing it, to at least some version of the person’s angelic self.  For example, in college I had a friend whom my other friends couldn’t stand, they thought she was so affected in manner.  This friction prompted me to think about why what bothered them about her didn’t bother me.  I concluded that it was due to my not taking that part of her seriously, I just related to the mensch within her and ignored the greasepaint.  With her I didn’t get upended by doing this, but I certainly have with others, and the false expectations I hold for a person when I do that are on me — they are my responsibility, not theirs.  I sometimes think it might be easier for me to stop myself from having expectations at all about other people than to figure out how to sort through their characteristics and assign them accurately to their ego-centered selves or better angels, respectively.