Better Angels

When the waters rise, so do our better angelsPresident Jimmy Carter

Can We Share?

The two athletes were going toe to toe in the long jump final in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Both had cleared the most recent height in the medal round. They continued equaling each other’s height clearance. Round after round, the battle ensued. After no clear winner could be declared, a jump-off, the Olympic way to decide who would take the gold, was required. This would break the tie between Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Muttaz Essa Barshim of Qatar to determine the Olympic gold medalist. 

Then in an unconventional move that resulted in an unprecedented outcome, Barshim asked the Olympic official, “Can we have two golds?” 

Barshim, the event’s reigning champion and the favorite to win the competition, saw no need for one to lose when two can win. According to Olympic records, the last time a gold medal was shared in track and field was at the 1912 Olympic games.

This question posed by Barshim in an atmosphere of intense competition reminds me that it is possible for a platform reserved for one to be shared with others.

Is It Possible?

The Olympic official replied to Barshim, “It is possible,” and the two athletes hugged each other in what one person called “the best Olympic moment.” How did Barshim propose an option not previously placed on the table of competition? To find out, we will need to take a trip into history.

Better Angels

As Abraham Lincoln prepared to take the office of the President in 1861, the country was on the brink of civil war. His inaugural address was intended to alleviate the fears associated with the impending conflict. Against the backdrop of war, Lincoln’s concluding remarks appealed to unity and hope:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it, 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.’

The “better angels of our nature,” as termed by Lincoln, refer to the internal characteristics that produce a synergistic environment where we desire to see win-win situations over win-lose outcomes. I believe this is the desire that Barshim had when he asked the official if he could share the gold medal with his competitor. The environment created by the actions of one athlete reverberated past the confines of the Olympic stadium. It spoke volumes regarding the impact we can make when we choose to express values that ignite and inspire hope and seek what is beneficial over the permissible.

Seeking the Beneficial

The characteristics that comprise “better angels” are nestled in the cradle of our choices where what is beneficial is the obvious pick. What does seeking the beneficial consist of?

We Over Me

While the permissible looks through the narrowest perspective, the beneficial zooms out and looks at the broader outlook. How will my decisions or actions affect those closest to me? Constantly asking this outward-focused question propels us to bring out our better angels in the different spheres we live in. 

The result of this question creates a deeper appreciation for others and life in general. Our greatest satisfaction is drawn from the well of acting in ways that benefit others or, as my friend Samson repeatedly says, adds value to one another. Anytime you choose what is beneficial, you create an environment of empowerment. 

When you seek we, not me, decisions and actions, the true portrayal of life’s interconnectedness comes alive. Displays such as Barshim’s, supply much-needed inspiration in a hope-starved world. Is there an area of your life where choosing the beneficial over the permissible will create a better environment for you and others? 

This Month

As we consider the better angels of our nature that can inspire and ignite hope, we will take an introspective look at our lives from three different angles this month. These angles posited in question form will comprehensively assess our walls, nets, and filters. They will guide in the continuous battle to choose the beneficial over the permissible. Here is the road map:

What Is Your Wall? (August 12th)

Do You Have A Net? (August 19th)

Is Your Filter On? (August 26th)

Final Thought: Anyone interested in a life filled with fewer regrets consistently extracts the better angels of their nature by seeking what is beneficial with the “we over me” mentality. Like Barshim and Abraham Lincoln, thinking at this level places us in the rarefied air where what unites us is greater than what divides us. And as Matt Damon proclaims, “if we listen to the better angels of our nature, there are creative and good solutions to serious problems.”

Keep on Keeping on!


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