The Better Angels of our Nature

The past year has seen a noticeable uptick in bullying. This is the case not only in our schools but also in the work world and social media world as well.

This is disappointing, of course. Schools in particular have gone to great lengths to provide anti-bullying education to students of all ages. It is not as if this work has been for nothing, it is just that it is clear that there are forces working against what would otherwise seem to be a no-brainer: encouraging respect for everyone.

While it is disappointing, it is also understandable. People, kids in particular, take their ques from what they witness to be acceptable behavior. Since the last election, we have all witnessed a leadership style that is based to a large degree on intimidation and name calling. Some may be reluctant to connect those dots but when a little boy on a playground calls a little girl by a derogatory name for her genitals, it is not only that boy who is to blame.

I have always been mystified by bullying. It does not seem to benefit even the one doing the bullying. But maybe that momentary flash of extreme power over another is its own reward; regardless of the damage done.

It has long been established that the psychological profile of a bully is, in fact, a weak person. A bully is typically someone with extremely low self- esteem, lacking parental affirmation, and desperately needing to feel relevant. Lately, instead of offering help to such people (or at the very least resistance when they act out), bullies have found encouragement in their ways.

Not only does this cause trauma to those who are bullied, but there is also a shredding of our social fabric that takes place when this becomes normalized. As Katherine Stewart writes in The Nation: “Manufacturing bullies is not all that complicated. You take the fear and anxiety of ordinary life, and you give people the license to focus it on other people… The way to solve your problems is to take it out on ‘them.’ Release your rage on the target of your choosing.”

Such a dynamic, taking place over time, will surely divide people more than unite them.

Countering this means elevating love in our world. I know that sounds like a hippy placard right out of the 1960’s. It also happens to be true. Love is not just bunnies and flowers. Love is a force to be reckoned with. It is most notable by its absence, you know it when you see it, and it is, in fact, the very definition of God.

Kindling love in our society requires us to call upon “the better angels of our nature”. Ironically, it was a president who first used that phrase. In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln said:

“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.”

Individually and as a society, I have no doubt that those “mystic chords” will once again swell. We will find our way to a society built upon the better angels of our nature and First Congregational Church will help lead the way.

See you in church,
–Rev. Dominic