Lincoln's Melancholy and the Better Angels of Our Nature (video)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 5:26am

Lincoln's Melancholy and the Better Angels of Our Nature (video)

Here's a 3.5 minute video in which I talk about Abraham Lincoln's journey with depression. Lincoln's ability to integrate the darkness and light within himself made him the president we needed at a time when the divides in our country were so deep that 750,000 Americans died at the hands of other Americans.

"Violence is what happens when we don't know what else to do with our suffering."

Today, when suffering is so widespread, at home and abroad, we all need to be asking how to transform suffering into something life-giving, not death-dealing, politically as well as personally.

As I say in Healing the Heart of Democracy, we know how to do this in our personal lives. I know many people who have lost someone near and dear to them and found their hearts shut down. But after a long night of grief, they have slowly awakened to the fact that suffering has made their hearts more open, compassionate, and alive.

We have the capacity for this kind of "alchemy" in our private lives. Let's find ways to use it in our public lives as well, where so much depends on how we hold our suffering.

(This is one of a series of videos produced by my colleagues at the Center for Courage & Renewal as part of their ongoing project on healing the heart of democracy.)

Share Post

Shortened URL


Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Share Your Reflection



In order to be a great leader of people, a president would have to have a real understanding of the inner struggles of human nature. So, for Lincoln to have suffered from clinical depression, is no real surprise. Any healing of relationships comes from a blending/melding of forces, so to help a nation, so divided, would have required a deep personal understanding of reconciliation, both internally and externally.

During the Viet Nam war I served in the Navy's Medical Corp as an orthopedic surgeon. We would get on a daily basis the wounded from Fort Dix in New Jersey who had been air-evact from Viet Nam. These were young men...some in their late teens and many in their early 20s. Many were badly injured with life changing injuries... multiple amputations, blindness, severe burns. They would ask me, only a few years older, "did I do the right thing Doc". I had my own feelings about the war but I would generally say something like "you answered your country's call and did your have nothing to be ashamed of". I often wonder what happed to these young me when they went home. I still worry about them and the families they went back too. I still include them in my prayers. I hope they have healed both in body and in spirit.