A Debate of Egos; the Need for the Soul

Last week I attended a debate watch party.  It was held in the Carthage College chapel in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the first night of the Braver Angels Convention, an annual event that brings equal numbers of red (conservative) and blue (progressive) and yellow (independent) members together to work to depolarize America, and to build a civic renewal movement by finding common ground.

I thought the watch party was a bad idea.  I figured that the hostility and nastiness that would inevitably be the primary hallmarks of the “debate” would kindle a similar response in the 500 plus politically divided audience.  It didn’t.  After the debate, responses were solicited from people who wanted to speak — alternating between red and blue attendees.  Nearly everyone expressed disappointment in the verbal warfare, surprise at the lack of command (Biden) and the misrepresentation of facts (Trump); and worry as a cloud of despair descended like an unwanted fog because we were left with the inadequacy (for different reasons) of these two primary choices.

In its nearly six years of existence (Braver Angels was created immediately after the 2016 election to offer workshops, debate and actions as an alternative to the escalating plague of toxic polarization,) Braver Angels has created a culture of openness, vulnerability and respect.  All of those attributes were on full display last Thursday night in the chapel.  I didn’t expect to see or feel them; but I am so grateful that I did.  It gave me a degree of hope in the wake of an emotionally painful display by our presidential candidates.

And the display was a battle of egos.  Which, as I reflected on it, presidential debates — and indeed the whole election process, is set up to be.  The day before the watch party, I was at the Episcopal Church General Convention in Louisville Kentucky where among other things I ducked into the Muhammad Ali Museum (Ali was a naive of Louisville).  I saw video footage of his Sonny Liston fight in 1964, his Joe Frazier fights in 1971 and 1975, and the George Forman fight in 1973, all of which I vividly recall.  In some ways, the only difference between those famously remembered pugilistic extravaganzas and Thursday night’s debate, is that last week’s combatants were older, wore different clothes, couldn’t bob and weave, and didn’t flick jabs.

But they did throw haymakers, or at least tried to.  And in some bizarre and unhealthy way, those of us in the audience were silently cheering for knockdowns, or TKOs (technical knockouts) or a gritty defense that would enable their favored candidate to ‘go the distance’.  These fights pull on the most primordial dimensions of the ego.

The ego is averse to risk, resistant to change, and seeks to prevail.  It wants to win. The election season is a prizefight that lasts far too long, costs too much money — and is framed as a zero-sum game in that there is a winner and a loser.  By boxing standards, Trump won the debate.  But the delegates at the Braver Angels Convention felt that we all lost.  Red and blue — we all lost.

Our culture is massively devoted to work and needs of the ego.  Presidential politics is perhaps the most prominent showcase of the ego’s hegemony.  The ego’s work is well funded, and continuously covered.  As the ego battle (war?) continues, I think it is important to lift up the need to give space and voice to the soul.  The soul is where creativity is born; where the imagination is released — and where love is born.  The ego is threatened by the soul. It seeks to punch the soul down; leave it flat on the canvas.

Cultural anxiety no doubt will continue to grow as we approach the election in November.  Our egos will take either take a beating – or will be tempted to engage in some beat-downs.  As the drama unfolds – and as the jabs and haymakers fly, there is a more urgent need for the presence, voice and witness of the soul.  The soul emerged on Thursday night in the aftermath of the disastrous debate. We need the soul — not to defeat the ego, but to provide some balance.  To offset it. The soul provides a pathway to hope.

We all have a soul.  Discover it.  Nurture it.  Use it.



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