There were doubtless many heroic moments in the life of Abraham Lincoln and many chapters of his life from which we could learn, but Spielberg chose to pick a particular cross roads of his Presidency and honed in on it in great detail. It was a time when Lincoln’s star was rising and, as his wife beseeched him, if he allowed himself to rest on his successes at that point, the rest of his life would have been so much easier, and perhaps longer too. But popularity is not what drove Lincoln. Against the advice of his wife and virtually the entirety of his cabinet – not to mention most of his party – Lincoln was determined to press on with legislation to amend the constitution to reflect the abolition of slavery. He was attempting no less than to defy political gravity at the time, but it was a cause he knew he had to fight for.
Our best actions in life come about, not when we are calculating the odds of victory or success, but when we are doing what we know in our heart to be right. In other words, when our actions are rooted in compassion. Watching the movie reminded me of words from the famous “Do It Anyway” poem by mother Teresa; “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway… The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.”
When we are being authentically compassionate, we may not know that we will be successful or achieve the full extent of our ambitions, but we will always know that what we are doing is right. As Lincoln’s successor – a man whose very administration would not have been possible without Lincoln’s passing of the 13th amendment – said in a recent speech, when we are acting from love for those more vulnerable and less fortunate than us, we should know that are always right. It is then, Obama said, that we experience “a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that's what matters. We know we're always doing right when we’re… showing acts of kindness. We don't go wrong when we do that.”
As the Dalai Lama put it, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”