In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise. It is now estimated that in the Civil War 750,000 Americans were killed by other Americans or the direct effects of the conflict. Yet the President offered explicit cause to give thanks and praise and invited others — including those in rebellion — to join with him.
In the closing paragraph of the Presidential Proclamation (below), Mr. Lincoln encouraged his fellow citizens to several actions — including seeking humble penitence for our national perverseness.
I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
We are again engaged in “lamentable civil strife” that, in my judgment, exceeds necessity or good cause. The recent election has, I am afraid, served mostly to deepen the divide.
It is a division founded in pride and perpetuated by denial: I am right. You are wrong. My motives are pure. Your motives are either confused or conspiratorial. You must be persuaded or at least dissuaded. I listen only for weakness in your argument.
This is a habit unfriendly to peace, harmony, tranquility, and union. This is the stance that unleashed the civil war. This is the dehumanizing at the source of our most inhuman behavior.
On the screened porch beside his favorite chair my grandfather hung two sayings, the first in needlepoint, the other written in his own hand, both framed:
Come Let Us Reason Together.
A man who hasn’t made a mistake hasn’t made anything.
Effective reasoning requires a sense of personal limitation. Humility is not just a virtue, it is a helpful embrace of reality.
Lincoln explained, “When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.” On occasion this interior reasoning and careful consideration of alternatives caused Lincoln to adjust his own judgment before the other had uttered a word.
Thank you for sharing your experiences, judgments, and opinions. Thank you for encouraging me to step outside my predilections and prejudices. Thank you for causing me to actively consider alternatives. Thank you for opening and changing my mind. I hope to occasionally return the favor.