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We Are Our Better Angels

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

PITTSBURGH -- On a brilliant Saturday morning in the middle of Market Square, an open public square in the center of this post-industrial western Pennsylvania city, two men -- one black, one white -- stood facing each other with intensity and waiting for the other's next move.

Lance throws his hands up in the air, walks away from the passionate confrontation, and then walks back to face Hasan. He says: "I just made my move. That's all. Just needed to walk a little to ease the pressure."

Hasan smiles ever so slightly.

The men are engaged in a penetrating game of chess -- something they have been doing every Saturday morning for several years. Lance is black. He is wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and a white fedora. He lives in suburban Pittsburgh. Hasan is white. He is dressed in a bright yellow T-shirt, gray vest and khaki trousers. He is originally from Yugoslavia and barely speaks English.

There is nothing at all remarkable about what they are doing -- they've done it every week for years -- unless you buy in to the national conversation at 30,000 feet that our racial relationship with one another is deteriorating everywhere.

Conflict sells. Conflict grabs our attention. Conflict creates distrust when there was none. Conflict also causes us to believe the fabric of our country is fraying. It's not. Ask Lance. Ask Hasan. Ask anyone in Houston.

Later that same day, the impact of the flooding in Houston as a result of Tropical Storm Harvey began to emerge on social media; images from local news organizations and citizens percolated to the top of everyone's social media stream, and the response across the country was beyond inspiring.

It was hard to look away from the good that was happening. It was hard to not reach out to people and ask them how you could help. It was hard not to be proud, for the first time in a long time, of the people in our country.

Instead of the hate and conflict we are beat over the head with in the news and on social media every day, America found that its collective heart still beats strongly. People of all races were helping people of all races -- the spotlight shined on Houston, and Houston shined back.

Remember that this city and its people opened their arms to over 100,000 Hurricane Katrina victims 12 years ago -- sometimes we tend to forget the good and only remember the bad.

A black man named TJ didn't forget. He tweeted: "I will never forget how Houston opened its arms and welcomed my entire New Orleans. Stand by to return the love."

He is clearly happily dedicated to Louisiana State University football, based on his Facebook page and Twitter feed. Later, he tweeted, "America is still Beautiful!"

A reporter interviewed a Texas City man just about to take his boat off of its trailer about what he was up to. His answer captured the sentiment of nearly every American. The reporter asked: "You guys just jumping in to help out? ... What are you going to do?" The man answered bluntly, "I am going to try to save some lives."

Examples of humanity were everywhere on Twitter. In a medium that had become a sewer of the worst of America, Houston has become the beacon of everything that is right about America.

The humanity, courage, bravery and compassion of everyday Americans comprised of every color and every background was on full display, and America could not stop watching, donating and showing up to help.

We are our better Angels, and Houston reminded us of that.

We should never let politics, social media or a few bad apples make us believe anything less. In an era of conflict-driven coverage of news and politics, where everything divides us and nothing is designed to unite us, Houston and her people shined a mirror back at us and reminded us we are still the greatest people in the greatest country.

Americans always want to feel part of something bigger than themselves; it's in our DNA, whether our family has been here for generations or a couple of years. So the next time you want to use social media as a weapon to neutralize someone who sees the world differently, step back and think of Houston. It might just change your mind.

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