Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
September 2011, Jossey-Bass
In his newest book, Parker J. Palmer builds on his own extensive experience as an inner life explorer and social change activist to examine the personal and social infrastructure of American politics. What he did for educators in The Courage to Teach he does here for citizens by looking at the dynamics of our inner lives for clues to reclaiming our civic well-being. In Healing the Heart of Democracy, he points the way to a politics rooted in the commonwealth of compassion and creativity still found among "We the People."
"Democracy," writes Palmer, "is a non-stop experiment in the strengths and weaknesses of our political institutions, local communities, and the human heart—and its outcome can never be taken for granted. 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."
Healing the Heart of Democracy names the "habits of the heart" we need to revitalize our politics and shows how they can be formed in the everyday venues of our lives. Palmer proposes practical and hopeful methods to hold the tensions of our differences in a manner that can help us restore a government "of the people, by the people, for the people."
Praise for Healing the Heart of Democracy
"We have been trying to bridge the great divides in this great country for a long time. In this book, Parker J. Palmer urges us to 'keep on walking, keep on talking'—just as we did in the civil rights movement—until we cross those bridges together."
—Congressman John Lewis, recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom
"A book born for this moment. Wise, evocative, and pragmatic at its core, this dream for a new politics is grounded in dignity and liberty for all."
—Terry Tempest Williams, author, The Open Space of Democracy
"The most important manifesto in generations for breaking through the divisiveness that has paralyzed our democracy."
—Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength; author, The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men
"All who harbor concerns about American politics will find in this book a wise and kindred spirit who reminds us of choices we can make to help 'reweave the tattered fabric of our civic life.' You will close this book appreciating how much you can do, and how much depends on you."
—Diana Chapman Walsh, president emerita, Wellesley College
"Breaks new ground in marrying the capacity of the human heart with the tensions inherent in politics [and] breathes new life into what it means to be a citizen—accountable, compassionate, fiercely realistic."
—Peter Block and John McKnight, coauthors, The Abundant Community
"The book we need for recovering the heart—the very core—of our selves and our democracy."
—Krista Tippett, host, American Public Media's Being author, Einstein's God
"Could not be more timely and needed. As one who has been guided through a time of personal reflection with Parker Palmer, I invite you to join in a journey through these chapters."
—Congresswoman Lois Capps, grandmother, mother, nurse, and seeker after democracy
Chapter I Democracy's Ecosystem 11
Chapter II Confessions of an Accidental Citizen 29
Chapter III The Heart of Politics 49
Chapter IV The Loom of Democracy 69
Chapter V Life in the Company of Strangers 89
Chapter VI Classrooms and Congregations 119
Chapter VII Safe Space for Deep Democracy 151
Chapter VIII The Unwritten History of the Heart 175
The author 219
"Healing the Heart of Democracy is a hopeful book that lifts up and hallows the heart as a source of inner sight. Inspired by the efforts to understand and undergird democracy by Abraham Lincoln, Alexis de Tocqueville, Rosa Parks, and others; the author sends us on our way rejoicing with the small portion of hope that he has planted in our minds and souls." (Spirituality & Practice)
"There is a deep and disturbing cloud hanging over the United States. It is a malaise that is leading to cynicism and self-centeredness. The antidote is to be found in the healing of the heart of our democracy, so that we might emerge from this private focus to a public one, which recognizes our interdependence. I know of no better guide to discerning the problem and the solutions, than this book by Parker Palmer. It is a prophetic book, one that needs to be taken with all due seriousness, if we are to emerge from our malaise stronger and healthier than before." (Englewood Review of Books, 2011)
"[Palmer] has been constantly on the move intellectually and spiritually, a kind of Socratic gadfly in American life... [His] politics is not the politics of despair or...of inevitable progress, but...of people trying to live better lives as they attempt to work together for a better society." (Christian Century)
"I recommend this book to absolutely everyone–on any side of the political spectrum, and especially to folks like me, who were standing aside, wringing their hands and wishing for a better democracy." (Beliefnet.com)
"If you're looking for a way to reclaim the best of democracy to shape our nation's future, this is a book worth spending some time with." (The Cap Times)
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.