‘A torrent of angry and malignant passions’


One of the timeless features of great figures, including America’s Founding Fathers, is their ability to understand and articulate the nature of the human race. Their observations are, thus, applicable to any age and almost any situation.

An example: In Federalist No. 1 of The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton describes how we all need a modicum of moderation while debating complex, controversial issues:

So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution. (emphasis added)

It seems our political culture today has taken little heed of Hamilton’s warnings. Strong rhetoric is used at all levels of government. It’s customary for all sides of an issue to crank up the dogma-meter to level 10 in an effort to shout down the other side. Listening to another’s point of view is often considered a demonstration of weakness and insecurity in one’s own positions, when the opposite is actually true.

The Federalist Papers attempted to convince residents of New York state to approve the new federal constitution. In Federalist No. 1, Hamilton predicted the behavior of both sides of the debate, and in so doing captured the essence of how most of us behave today:

And yet, however just these sentiments will be allowed to be, we have already sufficient indications that it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion. A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.

So what is the alternative? Sutherland Institute recently completed its Transcend Series, three forums that explain this other alternative. At the heart of the approach is this: See others as human beings, not objects. When we objectify our adversaries, we allow ourselves to see them, speak to them, speak about them, and treat them, as objects. It is dehumanizing.

But we can begin to solve our problems, at the family, local, state, federal and international levels, when we see each other as fellow human beings, each of us with concerns, emotions, needs, biases and fears. The first presentation in Sutherland’s Transcend Series was hosted by The Arbinger Institute’s Jim Ferrell, who describes this alternative approach. Arbinger’s book The Anatomy of Peace explains in great detail how to solve the heart of conflict (hint: it’s in ourselves). Take a look at Jim’s TEDx presentation to better understand why we behave the way we do, as Hamilton so accurately described more than 200 years ago.