Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
September 2011, Jossey-Bass
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HEALING THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
At this critical time in American life, Parker J. Palmer – bestselling author, thought-leader, teacher, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal – brings us a powerful and stimulating new book, HEALING THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.
“Democracy,” writes Palmer, “is a non-stop experiment in the strengths and weaknesses of our political institutions, local communities, and the human heart. The experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into compassion, conflict into community, and tension into energy for creativity amid democracy’s demands.”
Defining “heart” as the place where our knowledge becomes fully human, Palmer identifies five interlocking “habits of the heart” that Americans need in response to today’s fractious and fragmented political environment:
- An understanding that we are all in this together
- An appreciation of the value of ‘‘otherness’’
- An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
- A sense of personal voice and agency
- A capacity to create community
Palmer reminds us that in a democracy there is no “final solution” for any issue, so our political system works well only when “We the People” have the habits required to make creative use of our unresolved tensions. He identifies the settings of everyday life in which our habits are developed – families, neighborhoods, classrooms, congregations, our media-generated culture, cyberspace, and the diverse venues of public life. He spells out what we can do in those settings to form hearts supple enough to embrace democracy’s endless conflicts. Democracy, says Palmer, is about humility as well as chutzpah – the capacity to listen as well as to speak across the lines of difference that enrich American life.
HEALING THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY is not about blaming “them,” our elected officials in Washington, D.C., for our country’s problems. Instead, it is an appeal to rebuild the neglected infrastructure of democracy – the fabric of local life and the habits of the heart that sustain it – to help us restore a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Here is a soul-searching, deeply thoughtful, and well-grounded manifesto that proposes practical and hopeful ways of doing exactly that.