Letter to the Editor: Why the “With Malice Toward None” initiative matters

With Malice Toward None Committee

This summer, the President’s Office called together leaders from Augustana’s campus to bring the nationwide organization, Braver Angels to campus. A bipartisan group with a passion and focus on depolarizing America, Braver Angels calls students to conversation and dialogue, welcoming disagreements, but doing so with civility. 

Augustana is implementing the With Malice Toward None initiative. The initiative is two-fold in its approach. The first step is for members of the Augustana community to commit themselves to civil conversations about hard topics yet avoid deliberately divisive rhetoric before and after the election. 

The second step asks the Augustana community to put that pledge into action by attending any or all of the three events and engaging in active and ongoing conversation this committee planned. Each event is unique in its approach to cultivating productive discussions between members who are present. 

The phrase “With Malice Toward None” has deep historical significance in the work of uniting a divided people. Former President Abraham Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address in 1865 with the following call to action for citizens from the North and from the South:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all […] let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds […] to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

While we know Lincoln was not always a perfect leader, Braver Angels looks to this quote as a foundation to build upon for this program.

With Malice Towards None focuses on unifying our community through recognizing our differences and engaging with them. The program is not about a specific party or candidate. Rather, the program recognizes real societal problems that have real and sometimes harmful impacts on our community, and through conversation and understanding, how we can best solve them. 

It is not about making people feel comfortable or proving someone else wrong. The program is about understanding our neighbors, sharing one’s opinion and hearing the opinion of someone else. When we recognize the person sitting next to us as a fellow human being, we make progress toward bettering the community around us first. 

This program is not about creating a watered-down, happy-go-lucky world where no conflict exists. This program is rooted in the reality that we are not always right, and understanding that to be a good thing. 

Philosopher John Stuart Mill said, “every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended.” 

The pledge requires four things from you: to be respectful toward your peers, to be honest in your thoughts and ideas, to show humility that you might sometimes be wrong and to embody citizenship through your actions towards others. These ideas should be rudimentary in our society, not radical. 

However, our work as a community doesn’t end on the dotted line. Rather, showing respect means showing up to talk about real impacts. We encourage all of you to commit to showing up to at least one of our events. 

It is at these events where we, as the Augustana community, will be able to put our pledged commitment into action and take confident steps in bettering our community for the future.

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