One of my favorite authors is a man named Parker J. Palmer. Parker comes from the Quaker Tradition which embodies such a genuine depth of spirit and connection that I am always interested in what he has to say. With a background in education, spirituality, community, and leadership his latest book is Healing the Heart of Democracy.” And while politics may seem a strange bedfellow to spirituality or even SMART Living, the manner in which Parker approaches the topic is relevant to every single subject I ever write about. Ultimately, every one of his themes leads to a greater experience of the whole.
For example, in Healing The Heart of Democracy he explains five critical habits of the heart that are necessary for a healing. They are:
#1 Understanding that we are all in this together. Anyone who understands that we are all connected knows how important it is to support others—no matter where they are on the planet. But according to Parker, not everyone understands this because some people believe they arrived at their success and advantage all by themselves—or they are threatened by anyone who is different than them. When we recognize that whatever we do to others, we are also on some level doing to ourselves, will we then understand our deep web of connection.
#2 An appreciation of the value of otherness. As a tribal species, there will always be people on the planet who are “different” than us. But those differences don’t have to lead to an “us versus them” mentality. Ways to avoid that are to learn to respect others and embrace the ancient virtue of “Hospitality to the Stranger.” This allows us to recognize there is always something we can learn or benefit from others no matter how different. It is also a good reminder that even the least among us has an equal place on this planet.
#3 An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Most of us resist change, disagreement or tension at all cost. But the only way to end tension completely is to die. Creative tension is a good thing and life-giving. It allows us to continue to work on the next best thing and push ourselves from the good on toward the better. Instead of resistance or fear, learning to hold creative tension can be life-giving and transformative for people and the planet itself.
#4 A sense of personal voice and agency which assures us that we have the ability and space to speak up and make a difference. Most of us grew up in institutions that silenced us, like classrooms or congregations, where we felt helpless and powerless. Instead, when we recover our voice and join it with others, we can definitely learn the strength of one person, and how each of us can make a difference.
#5 A capacity to create community. Most of our American institutions teach us more about being individuals and/or members of an audience—rather than members of an interactive community. But life, and certainly not democracy, is not a spectator sport. It’s important to get involved and participate in everything that’s important to us. First we need others to teach us how to speak and act when important. Then we need others to support each of us when we learn to speak and act at critical times. True community is learning to come together to create a world that thrives and works for everyone.
In the end, Parker says that habits of the heart come down to two words—chutzpah and humility. In order to be good members of any community, we need the chutzpah, or courage to say what it is we care about—and to make a claim for that on each other and our world. And we need to have the humility to know that we must listen and learn from each other because none of us has the whole answer of anything.
Parker Palmer’s latest book is a focus on how we can deal with our current political tensions for the sake of the common good and to find “the courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit.” But as always, his wise insights apply to the way we can live with each other on nearly every aspect of our lives every single day. Plus, when we remember that we are all connected, politics in one realm is not separate from politics in another. As usual, thanks to Parker Palmer, I am uplifted and encouraged when I remember I am connected to it all.
“I want my inner truth to be the plumb line for the choices I make about my life – about the work that I do and how I do it, about the relationships I enter into and how I conduct them.” ~Parker J. Palmer
“I want to learn how to hold the paradoxical poles of my identity together, to embrace the profoundly opposite truths that my sense of self is deeply dependent on others dancing with me and that I still have a sense of self when no one wants to dance.” ~Parker J. Palmer