What is Better Angels?
Better Angels is a national citizens' movement to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing liberals and conservatives together to understand each other beyond stereotypes, forming red/blue community alliances, teaching practical skills for communicating across political differences, and making a strong public argument for depolarization.
We've designed several workshops that successfully help red and blue Americans rebuild trust and better understand each others' perspectives. Our signature "Red/Blue Workshop" brings together 7 conservative-leaning participants and 7 progressive-leaning participants for moderated activities and discussions that clarify disagreements, reduce stereotyped thinking, and begin building the relationships needed to find common ground. Our "Skills Workshop" teaches practical skills for having better conversations with friends and family members with whom you have strong political disagreements.
To further the work of depolarization nationwide, we're building a grassroots movement of local "red-blue alliances" that work together to continue the trust-building and mutual understanding begun in the workshops, reach out to others in the community with the Better Angels message, and look for ways to work together on issues connected to polarization. Each year, we bring together local red and blue leaders from across the country to democratically deterimine our national priorities for the coming year – and build a national alliance that can influence the direction of our nation.
We're also bringing together leading scholars, writers, and ordinary citizens from across the political spectrum to model the “Better Angels Way” of public debate: constructively engaging with opposing points of view rather than name-calling and partisan posturing. Our emerging "Better Angels Media Network" is for anyone who's sick and tired of partisan talking points – and wants to make their voice heard.
Better Angels is nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit. From our board of directors to our staff, workshop participants, and funding sources, we are evenly split between liberals and conservatives. We call it the Better Angels Rule: we are reds and blues together in approximately equal numbers; and we are upscale and grassroots, and of different colors, such that our organization looks like the country we seek to serve.
Better Angels Alliances are local members of a community – evenly split between red and blue – that meet on an ongoing basis to organize workshops and democratically take up issues on which they agree.
In today's poltical climate, many of us believe that our political adversaries are not simply misguided, but that they are also bad people.
Instead of asking people to change their minds about issues, we give Americans a chance to better understand each other, to absorb the values and experiences that inform our political philosophies, and to ultimately recognize our common humanity.
Our approach is informed by the Better Angels Pledge:
As individuals, we try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.
In our communities, we engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.
In politics, we support leaders and policies aiming to bring us together rather than divide us.
On social media, we try to post with empathy thoughtfulness, and respect — not anger and mistrust.
Why “Better Angels” ?
“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 yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
–Abraham Lincoln, 1861
The idea of recognizing something that’s shared with the other – even in moments of fierce conflict – is beautifully reflected in Abraham Lincoln’s use of the term “better angels” in his First Inaugural Address in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War. William Seward, who would serve as Lincoln’s Secretary of State, had suggested that Lincoln close his speech by calling upon the “the guardian angel of the nation.” Lincoln changed it to “the better angels of our nature.” In Seward’s version, what was needed would come from outside us. In Lincoln’s version, it would come from within us, something “better” in the “nature” of both Northerners and Southerners.
In America today we haven’t reached the point of violence and chaos – yet. But surely in our increasingly and dangerously fractured nation, we all need to be touched by something “better” within us and within the institutions that we build together.