Roadmap to Inspiration in Stressful Times: Finding our “Better Angels”

Posted November 27th, 2022 in better angels by Dr. William (Bill} DeMarco

Roadmap to  Inspiration in Stressful Times:

Finding our “Better Angels”


Dr. William (Bill) DeMarco, Ph.D.

All generations have encountered stress.  While stress most often feels unique to each of us, it is really a recurring element of the human condition that everyone experiences.  Beyond the normal stressors of personal and family life, we are confronted with the additional stress of living in particularly challenging times.  While I do not know whether this is significantly different from what other generations have  encountered, I do know it is our current reality.  What frequently feels like a constant bombardment of stress cries out for relief.  Finding “better angels” may offer some as needed.  This article is a roadmap on how to get there.  

Let’s start off with a better understanding of culture, the modern reality we all live within.  As  I have frequently written in these pages, CULTURE is a living thing…being  the sum total of the history , values, and folklore of a society at a given point in time.  This is true for both societies and businesses of all sorts.  Our current cultural “point in time” is particularly stressful, given the constant presence of “in your face” media.  It impacts how we live, what we value, how we relate to one another, who our role models are, how and what we celebrate, what and how we eat…pray…and yes, even love.

DeMarco Culture Model

Copyright, Dr. William DeMarco, 1993

I would not be surprised in the least if it comes to you that we live in precarious times, with the constant bombardment of media of all sorts.  Institutions that have traditionally been bulwarks against dramatic and even unsettling change, have lost much of their lustre.  Current history  is creating a new set of values, reflected in the folklore of modern times, all becoming part of the culture going forward.  Now that becomes a scary thought when we think of their impact on the future generations we are spawning.

The reality is that fear of change has always been thus!  The Stoics of ancient Roman times wrote frequently about it. For example, the second century Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius  (image) wrote in his famous book of “Meditations”:

     ”Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight”

Not being able to see the future, we  naturally fear it; for we cannot control what we do not see.

Another example is found in the Four Gospels of the New (Christian) Testament of the Bible.  All four evangelists (Gospel authors) wrote about how the de facto ruling class of Pharisees feared the loss of power/status due to the teachings of Jesus Christ (image).  Even the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote about this.  Jesus preached about another kingdom in ways that questioned elements of Pharisaic teachings about the next life;  he even challenged the status quo  by preaching that the greatest commandment of all is to “Love God with all your heart”….”And Love your neighbour as yourself”…for “the poor will always be with us”…so “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick,  shelter the homeless”, rather than preach about the preeminence of sacrificial offerings.  In today’s parlance, this puts socialist principles above free enterprise.  Today’s hot debates on these topics are not really that new after all!

Christ also stated many times that He was the Son of God.  Talk about a radical departure from the values of the day, even though the Jewish people had been waiting for their Messiah (a perceived temporal leader) for centuries. As the Pharisees saw it, how could  a carpenter’s son from lowly Nazareth challenge their interpretations of scripture and the divine; so they contrived to have him executed by the legal protocols of the day.

Here we have another example of fear of change and loss of  control.  Human beings have never handled change well, in spite of the fact that like death, it is a certainty that both change and death are in all of our futures. In spite of all of today’s doom and gloom – sorry to be so maudlin here- centuries of human history can also provide us with solace and comfort.

Herodotus (image), frequently referred to as the “Father of History”, wrote thousands of years before Christ that history is less about reality (i.e.facts) than about relevance.  His writings tried to inspire all future generations to think less about the “who”…the “what”…the “when”, but more about the relevance of human realities

What comes to my mind immediately is what life was like for my grandparents and great grandparents, immigrants all living through the relevance of their 1890’s realities; realities which happen to be quite similar to those of modern times.  Here is a partial list of their stressors:  natural disasters, prejudice, tribalism,  greed, entitlement of class structure, ineffective political systems,  corrupt financiers, faulty institutions, terrorism, and a sense of helplessness. Quite a list; similar to what most of today’s refugees face.

Most importantly, though, for all this , they believed in the existence of “better angels”.  Family stories show this.  They saw their lives as better than in the old world because they had dreams that they believed could become a reality: financial opportunity, helping hands and big hearts of family, caring friends and agencies, labor unions, as well as inspiring and helpful social & religious institutions, and education for next generations, just to name a few.

Their experiences were no worse than those of so many other “societies” or  sub-cultures, frequently referred to as hyphenates   (i.e. -Canadians,  -Americans,  -Asians,  -Europeans, etc.). Of course, tribalism was present in all the miseries of these souls, frequently showing up in their attitudes towards others, but the fortunate ones focused  far  more on the relevance to their lives at a far more granular level.  Sure, tribalism with its ‘blame game”was present, but food, shelter, housing, financial security, and how to relate to one another proved to be far more important in their daily lives.

It was as if they were channelling Seneca, the great first century stoic, when he wrote:

“Associate with people who are likely to improve you

When fear of change and genuine disgust with the ethical bankruptcy of modern times gets you down, focus on the “better angels” of  more recent times who inspire you.  Start off with family stories from current and past generations.  It is important to celebrate the moments of their lives that inspire you; these always have special significance.

In addition,  many of my clients/adult students have been inspired by the lives of the following:  Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Benazir Bhutto, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton (image), Tommy Douglas,  Winston Churchill, Damien of Molokai, Terry Fox, Viktor Frankl, Frederick Douglass, Anwar Sadat, Maximillan Kolbe, Dr. Tom Dooley, Jesus Christ, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Sacajawea, Thomas Merton, Jimmy Carter, Mahatma Ghandi, George Marshall, Lech Walesa, Anthony deMello, etc.  Take a look at their (click) biographies , podcasts, or anything else you can get your hands on. 

[For more inspirational reading suggestions , please click here.]

Here is another person to think about; he was a man who made a difference in his many leadership  “moments of truth”. Thomas “Tip” O’Neil, the  Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980’s, was a physical and political giant of a man.  He built meaningful political coalitions in a difficult political environment.  He was a man of the people,  as he expressed in his oft-repeated prescient statement:

                  This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tip-oneil.jpg     “All politics is local”    

Tip O’Neil was genuinely inspiring when it counted most.  His “all politics is local” became a clarion call for people of diverse political persuasions at the time. When looking for “better angels” to inspire you, don’t think of political party or persuasion. Think of accomplishments in their “moments of truth”.

A final suggestion is to never fall into the trap of thinking that “better angels” are only perfect human beings. As humans, we can be judgemental some times.  Here’s a suggestion on how to not fall into that trap.  Think of how we celebrate Victoria Cross, Medal of Honor, and Croix de Guerre recipients; we celebrate  their specific accomplishment(s), not the perfection of their lives.  

If you are mostly a visual person, some  have found the following helpful. Take a look/rewatch the movie  “Dances with Wolves”; think about what it says to you about your assumptions/values before, during and after your viewing.  Here is a partial list of other (click) videos that may inspire you. 

What each of us needs today to get past the craziness of modern times is to find our own “better angels”.   Each culture has countless sources of inspiration.  They are around us everywhere. Immerse yourself in the sound of silence, AND

Search…Find…Be Inspired

Find Your Inspiration.

Meaningful Reflections!

Dr. Bill DeMarco


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