Abraham Lincoln is on the U.S. penny, was our 16th president and today remains a big, gaunt, gangly jerk.
... well, depending on your perception at least.
I had the pleasure of taking Spielberg’s latest movie marvel––arguably his greatest to date––”Lincoln” over the weekend.
Daniel Day Lewis was incredible in his portrayal and I almost wonder if he wasn’t a better Lincoln than Lincoln himself.
The movie begins with a hate filled battle between black union soldiers and white confederates. It ends with Lincoln reading a speech to “40,000 people from all over the country, wounded soldiers, civilians in black. And for the first time, in the crowd, not at its edges, hundreds of African Americans, civilians and soldiers.” This, shortly after the scene in which he is shot for having led the charge to end slavery.
If you only look at this culminating point in the President’s life, then the man seems not just a man, but a saint.
Of course, if you only look at it the time in which he signed the order approving the largest public execution in the nation’s history, when 38 Dakota prisoners were hung in Mankato, then he appears as some sort of devil.
But 300 had been condemned to die, and all but 38 were commuted. I had to ask, what about that? To which I only received a response of silence.
Perhaps I don’t know. Perhaps I can never know. But it seems to me that Lincoln, like all of us, are the best or worst actions, but something in between. And for the matter I can’t help but be inclined to focus on the positive, in hopes that maybe the negative traits may be left behind.
I watched an interview with the Dalai Lama a few years back and in it he offered a response to a question that completely challenged the way I looked at the world.
The spiritual leader of Tibet was asked about what he expected of China––this in the context of the country’s calculated actions to virtually extinguish one of the most spiritually minded places on earth by killing thousands upon thousands while attempting to replace the nation’s spiritual leaders with those hand chosen by China.
The Dalai Lama stated that he not only had no anger or hate toward the country, but actually held the belief that its leaders would come to do the right thing.
It’s hard to fathom, but comes to make sense when you take into account Tibet’s belief system.
Meditation is a big part of the Buddhist religion and by entering into the meditative state it is believed that one can apply his focus onto a particular intention or way of being in such a way that it will come into reality in the physical world.
Page 2 of 2 - Meditate on joy, and you become joyous. Focus your mind on love and you become more loving. And so on so forth.
Thus, from the Dalai Lamas perspective, holding the belief in his mind that China would do himself and his people wrong, would only serve to create the actual realization of this in the present world. As such, he imagines China will become a more loving people, and the positive ripple effects perpetuate.
The extent of the effectiveness of this mindset is affected by both the totality of the belief of the individual as well as that held by others. In other words, the stronger and more numerously held the belief the more profound its impact.
And so with President Lincoln there are associations that I do not like with the man, but I know that he is more than that. And so I am moved not to dwell on the worst of his time as our 16th President, but that which espouses the most positive.
Things like his speech following the war in which he said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Or when he is speaking with the Vice President of the Confederacy who says Lincoln’s time as president is riddled with blood and the end of slavery will destroy the southern states economy.
“It may be you're right,” the President says about his bloody tenure. “But say all we’ve done is show the world that democracy isn't chaos, that there is a great invisible strength in a people's union? Say we've shown that a people can endure awful sacrifice and yet cohere? Mightn't that save at least the idea of democracy, to aspire to? Eventually, to become worthy of? At all rates, whatever may be proven by blood and sacrifice must've been proved by now. Shall we stop this bleeding?”
And even in just the little statements:
“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”