Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 50

Seeking Our Better and Braver Angels

The healing process of Braver Angels: should we all emulate it?

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

As I was discussing my recent daily column “Beware of Unexpected Calmness in Our Patients and Others1 with some local psychiatrist leaders, we got around to the challenge of how to educate the public about what psychiatry is about, especially some of our counterintuitive understandings. One of them suggested that, perhaps, we should model after the organization Braver Angels. Surely this was a timely recommendation as yesterday, December 9th, was their 5-year anniversary.

If you have not heard of Braver Angels, originally called Better Angels, they are a grassroots organization that brings together liberals and conservatives to try to reach common ground. They have found that curiosity, humility, and avoiding stereotyping helps achieve that goal. Careful listening is required, though that seems more difficult now due to the fear that has increased during the pandemic. Fear leads to the fight or flight reaction. Although their work is reported to succeed some locally, nationally divisiveness looks stronger than ever to me.

In some way, angels have long been an ego ideal for our country. President Lincoln, in his First Inaugural Address in 1861, famously said:

“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.”

Well, we know we did not find our better angels back then, as the Civil War ensued and Lincoln was himself assassinated.

The psychologist Steven Pinker took on that quest with his bestselling, albeit disputed, 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.2 The good news was the case he made for reduction of world violence and discrimination over time due, not to any change in human nature, but to the spread of literacy, commerce, and democracy across institutions. However, once again, this ideal is countered by reports of increased homicides in US cities during this pandemic period.

The healing process of the Better Angels should be right up our alley, as we are trained to be good and deep listeners. Wouldn’t local and national psychiatric partnerships with them and similar organizations be even more effective?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

References

1. Moffic HS. Beware of an unexpected calmness in our patients and others. Psychiatric Times. December 7, 2021. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/beware-of-an-unexpected-calmness-in-our-patients-and-others

2. Pinker S. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Penguin Books; 2012.