Angel Blogs


Here’s something astronaut Scott Kelly said recently: “I’ve found that most problems aren’t rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist.”


Recently a friend I have not seen in 48 years sent me a video clip of an artist creating a visual to go with the Star-Spangled Banner being sung just before a basketball game. The clip was shown on virtual channel kshb-tv. I don’t know who was playing in that game or where it took place, but the clip is pretty astounding. The first time I watched it, I could not figure out what the artist was painting, but at the very end it all came clear. You can check it out below.



This is an experimental session for Our Better Angels. It features author, podcaster, and TED Talker Sam Harris addressing the links between rational thinking and morality. Check it out here.


Two of my favorite authors since 2010 are Dan Pink and Steven Pinker. Pinker, of course, is the author of The  Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker got that title from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, and we appropriated the phrase for this website.

Pink and Pinker are kindred spirits. Before I retired, I used to show the You Tube clip below in my introductory course in Leadership Studies at Ripon College. It provides a good hint at Pink’s approach to human motivation, it covers some very useful information, and it’s a hoot to watch.



From its earliest days in the 1990s, our nonprofit sponsor, the Wisconsin Leadership Institute (WLI), has enjoyed a supportive and productive relationship with Camp Manito-wish YMCA of Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. Manito-wish is a YMCA camp, founded in 1919, featuring a substantial emphasis on collaborative leadership behaviors. In 2008, when the WLI published its curriculum for schools and youth groups (Leading Together: Foundations of Collaborative Leadership), Manito-wish people contributed to the research, the writing, and the testing of all the exercises and games. The team was led by Laurie Frank, a Manito-wish mainstay and lead author of the curriculum.


sportsOur nonprofit sponsor, the Wisconsin Leadership Institute, is getting involved in a project to support youth leadership development through sports-related activities and metaphors. The central aims of this new project will be to leverage the tension between competition and collaboration in sports; and to support the educational and developmental lessons of winning without arrogance, losing without shame, and working together for the sake of the team, the organization, and the community. In this light, we could consider Our Better Angels to be something like a pep rally for the never-ending parade of future generations as they compete, collaborate, win, lose, and help each other help each other. We’ll keep you posted as our new project emerges.


Shortly after the New Year showed up, Nick Kristof wrote in the the New York Times that, contrary to widespread belief, “2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.”

Kristof’s point echoes the gist of Steven Pinker’s monumental study, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker and Kristof both point out that we have come to doubt the goodness of human nature and to fear the worst among us thanks to the incessant reporting of violent, destructive, murderous, and just downright nasty behavior in most of our mass media news coverage.

When I was teaching leadership studies at Ripon College, I made a habit of asking students in my intro course how many had ever witnessed a murder. Over 33 years of teaching that course twice a year, only one person out of some 3,000 ever raised a hand. Then I would ask how many had seen at least 50 murders on TV, and every hand in every course in every semester went up.


On December 29, 2017, the New York Times reported that the 2017 story that garnered the most likes, shares, and comments was not about all the awful, creepy, nasty, really bad stuff that happened over the previous year. It was a story about Harvey and Irma Schluter, a wonderful, civilized, quiet couple who celebrated their seventy-fifth anniversary in Spokane, Washington.

Irma and Harvey are terrific representatives and models for Our Better Angels. At OBA we believe that most people, most of the time, under favorable conditions, are reasonably intelligent, cooperative, and willing to work for people and causes they care about. Psychologists have demonstrated this beyond doubt over the last 75 years, but some folks who hope to manipulate and exploit others through fear, anger, ignorance, or greed make a habit of undermining faith in the human spirit.


Once again on Christmas I thought a little bit about Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. During Jesus’ childhood, Joseph was no doubt considered his father by the people who knew the family, but two millennia of Christians have considered God to be the father of Jesus, which seems to mean that Joseph was Jesus’ stepfather.

Jesus and Mary get most of the attention at Christmas because of Christians’ belief in their direct semi-biological connections to God. I have always thought Joseph deserved more attention than he usually receives, since he was, after all, Jesus’ role model for a good human father, dispenser of encouragement, discipline, guidance, and perhaps even wisdom. Jesus apparently took up carpentry as a trade to follow in his human father’s footsteps.


To paraphrase Mark Twain, reality tv is to actual reality as the lightning bug is to actual lightning.

To paraphrase that paraphrase, mere celebrity in our day and age is to real leadership as reality tv is to actual reality.

To paraphrase that second paraphrase, a reality tv audience is to the citizenry of a healthy democracy as a mere celebrity is to a real leader.

To echo my favorite scholars of leadership behavior in the modern world, the two defining dimensions of effective leadership are truth and love. The truth dimension is about reality and it includes the recognition that two plus two will always equal four and that collaboration is ultimately more productive than amoral cutthroat competition. The love dimension is about compassion and it starts with the recognition that we human beings are all – repeat all – in the same boat.