THE BLOG
11/21/2012 05:10 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

What 'Lincoln' Can Teach Us About Keeping Our Heads When All Around Us Are Losing Theirs

On opening day, I stood at the front of the line at the movie ticket counter. To my right hung a black and white poster of Daniel Day-Lewis in profile: deeply creased face; wiry beard; thick, graying hair. He stars as President Abraham Lincoln in the new film, Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. The brilliant Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay, based in great part on Doris Kearns Goodwin's classic book, "Team of Rivals."

The movie focuses on the last four months of Lincoln's life, when he fought for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery. It is a tense, moving, thought-provoking piece of art.

The sign of a great movie is when you wake up the morning after having seen it and find yourself still thinking about certain scenes, implications, characters and conundrums. This movie left me in thrall for days on end, and got me thinking about these memorable lines from Rudyard Kipling's great poem, "If":

"If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you"

What is this movie's power?  Why are certain scenes calling to me, day after day? It is in part because it portrays the transformational leadership of a person who keeps his head by embodying what I have identified as 8 Habits of Love.

Lincoln's Legacy

To be sure, Lincoln's exemplary place in world history is well deserved. Before his presidency, people would say, "The United States are..." but afterwards they said, instead, "The United States is." At such a critical time in the history of this fledgling nation, Lincoln was the man who fought to keep the Union together, overseeing the transformation of our country from a collection of states to a nation with states.

In the midst of the Civil War, he courageously implemented the Emancipation Proclamation. The president used his constitutional authority to declare that all slaves were free, legally liberating more than 3 million people. This proclamation was so significant because it shifted the war's focus from uniting the splintered Union to working toward the systematic dismantling of slavery.

After his historic address to the nation in Gettysburg, the words "of the people, by the people, and for the people" forever entered the common lexicon of democracy.

And finally, in the last months of his life, his successful effort to pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution -- an amendment that built on his earlier Emancipation Proclamation by forever outlawing slavery -- truly changed the course of history in this country. Spielberg's movie focuses on this epic battle.

Living the Habits of Love

When watching this movie, I was moved by much more than the basic facts of Lincoln's various groundbreaking achievements. There seemed to be something even deeper and more transformative that had helped secure his place in history.

Could it be, I wondered, that he illustrated what it looks like to refuse to live life and lead others in a fear-based way? When our lives are based in fear, we cannot think and live in transformational ways; we are doomed to perpetuate the status quo -- no matter how destructive the status quo may be for a large percentage of humanity. Rather than live a life of fear, Lincoln embodied an open-hearted, inclusive, love-based way of life that truly revolutionized this country.

Since watching the movie, the scenes that replay themselves again and again in my mind are the scenes during which Lincoln used certain "habits" consistently. No doubt internal, institutional and political fears assailed his soul, and his outward relationships -- familial and professional -- also weighed heavily on him. Yet he was able to free himself from both the internal and external fears that presented themselves.

Which habits did he embody? Each of the 8 Habits of Love!

The Habit of Stillness

Lincoln spent long hours thinking and praying alone in the White House and while on travels. For each one of us, the peace of reaching Stillness offers us a clarity, courage and sense of purpose we cannot otherwise attain.

The Habit of Candor

The movie depicts a stunning conversation Lincoln has with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, in which they discuss the grief that plagued him and which also led to her hospitalization for mental instability. Painful yet healing Candor is in full evidence here.

The Habit of Compassion

Despite being in the midst of the worst war this nation has ever experienced, Lincoln showed heartfelt empathy for his enemies. Known as a patient man who actually listened to others, Lincoln's compassionate streak enabled him to reach across the aisle to broker solutions between adversaries. 

The Habit of Forgiveness

In one of the movie's most breathtaking scenes, Lincoln tells Ulysses Grant that he wants no retaliation after the war ends. In the early history of our embattled nation, forgiveness was a particularly revolutionary notion, but Lincoln's use of it accelerated the process of healing.

The Habit of Community

Lincoln was extraordinarily adept at bridging the gap between people who were ideologically divided. He invited his political rivals to be on his cabinet and then sincerely and respectfully considered their opinions. He knew that the United States could not fulfill its place in history if it remained a house divided against itself.

The Habit of Play

Even when life was at its most stressful, Lincoln told stories that put him and those around him in a playful mood and restored everyone's sense of perspective. This ability to shift away from the direness of the moment into a spirit of childlikeness was fundamentally rejuvenating.

The Habit of Generosity

At every turn, Lincoln blessed people with his good will and humor -- even his enemies, and those in extreme circumstances.

The Habit of Truth

Lincoln was always on a journey of evolving from a less expansive view of life and history toward a view that was more inclusive and equality based. His folksy reflection on Euclidian physics is a highlight of the movie.

I urge you to see this magnificent and provocative movie. Not only to remind yourself of the history of our nation and the stories of those who sacrificed themselves in defense of our core values, but also to gain insight into living a life based not in fear but in the Habits of Love.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. movingly said that no Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation could totally bring the firm sense of self-esteem needed for true and lasting freedom. True freedom takes place when each person, "reaches down to the inner depths of his [or her] own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive [person]hood his [or her] own Emancipation Proclamation."

"Lincoln" shows us how one person emancipated himself and others from a culture of fear and rancor by keeping his head and heart focused on the Habits of Love.

For the past 15 years Rev. Ed Bacon has been the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, with over 4,000 congregants, including celebrities like Madonna. He has been a guest on Oprah Winfrey's Soul Series on Oprah & Friends Radio, discussing 21st century spirituality, and has been a guest panelist in the Spirituality 101 segment of The Oprah Show's "Living Your Best Life" series. He is the author of the new book, "8 HABITS OF LOVE: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind."