Five Habits to Heal the
Heart of Democracy
By Parker Palmer
Parker Palmer presents qualities of citizenship that are essential for sustaining democracy in troubled times.
The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up--ever--trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?
--Terry Tempest Williams
words of Bill Moyers, "we have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear"? One answer is close at hand, within everyone's reach. We must return to the "first home" of democracy, which, as Terry Tempest Williams points out, is found not in a centuries-old document or in a distant city, but in the human heart.
These habits and the places where they are shaped form the invisible infrastructure of American democracy on which the quality of our political life depends. It is an infrastructure we have neglected at our peril, just as we have neglected its physical counterpart.
The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human.
If "We the People" are to help heal our ailing democracy--and if we do not, who will?--we need to develop five crucial habits of the heart. That, in turn, depends on people in positions of leadership dedicating themselves to forming these habits in the local venues I named earlier: families, neighborhoods, classrooms, congregations, voluntary associations, workplaces, and the various places of public life where "the company of strangers" gathers.
1) An understanding that we are all in this together.,,,,,...
2) An appreciation of the value of "otherness."............ "us and them" does not have to mean "us versus them." Instead, it can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger and give us a chance to translate it into twenty-first century terms. Hospitality rightly understood is premised on the notion that the stranger has much to teach us. It actively invites "otherness" into our lives to make them more expansive, including forms of otherness that seem utterly alien to us. Of course, we will not practice deep hospitality if we do not embrace the creative possibilities inherent in our differences......
3) An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Our lives are filled with contradictions--from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior, to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. But when we allow their tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life. Making the most of those gifts requires a fourth key habit of the heart...
4) A sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak out and act out our own version of truth, while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. But many of us lack confidence in own voices and in our power to make a difference. We grow up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama, and as a result we become adults who treat politics as a spectator sport. And yet it remains possible for us, young and old alike, to find our voices, learn how to speak them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change--if we have the support of a community. Which leads to a fifth and final habit of the heart.
5) A capacity to create community. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the "power of one" in a way that allows power to multiply: it took a village to translate Rosa Parks's act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can help us find the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. There are many ways to plant and cultivate the seeds of community in our personal and local lives. We must all become gardeners of community if we want democracy to flourish.
If I were asked for two words to summarize the habits of the heart American citizens need in response to twenty-first-century conditions, I would chose chutzpah and humility. By chutzpah I mean knowing that I have a voice that needs to be heard and the right to speak it. By humility I mean accepting the fact that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all, so I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to "the other," as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction.........
Five Habits to Heal the Heart of Democracy | Global Oneness Project