By Sister Judy Morris, O.P.
After viewing “Lincoln” in a sold out movie theater I left with the thought of having seen the common good in action. This outstanding film conveyed more than the moral imperative to abolish slavery. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the president engaged in the hard work of dialogue and compromise to eliminate the scourge of slavery while respecting each person’s need to share concerns.
Not only was slavery abolished but some representatives who supported slavery were able to find their better selves.
The persistence, courage and openness to transformation on the part of members of Congress and the president in the 1860s made this historic moment possible. In the most divisive and painful moments in our country’s history, a spirit-filled openness made what seemed impossible a reality.
The precursor to this historic achievement was Lincoln’s decision to appoint men to his cabinet who were foes prior to his election. He chose not to surround himself with “yes people,” knowing this would add stress to the most stressful time in his life and in the life of a nation.
His openness to differences and criticism equipped him to deal with the tensions and misunderstandings during the debate over passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. Anyone in the political arena today could learn from this wise decision.
This is a very timely film for our country today. We have endured a year of negative political ads, contentious and disrespectful speech and we remain a deeply divided country. Harsh and judgmental language even found a place at pulpits.
In this post election time, several thousand citizens have expressed a desire to secede from the United States. The post 9/11 sense of solidarity and lessening of political divisions are a distant memory. This negative energy could be transformed by a serious commitment to listen to the “other,” to learn what Lincoln understood — that no one possesses all the truth. Conversion calls us to humility. This enables us to recognize that success comes from the hard work of building community, not “winning.”
As members of Congress and the president face the daunting task of avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff,” they can be helped in this monumental task by viewing “Lincoln.” With the tools of mutual respect, hard work, openness to achieve a goal, and persistence, all can be “winners.”
Politicians are not the only ones who might benefit from the film. Every individual needs to grow in the ability to listen, to compromise and find creative ways to achieve a goal. When one begins with a positive attitude and faith that the Spirit is the moving force, bills can pass, obstacles can be overcome and challenges met. Like Mr. Lincoln, we must believe that miracles can happen.