This post contains few of my own words. Today in my quest to learn the skills of interpersonal political communication, I’m reading Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy (2011), and I felt the need to share some good passages, which cannot much be improved by my comments. I won’t be able to keep this up; I’m only on page 29.
“Reading about Lincoln as my healing (from depression) continued, I began to wonder about my own ability to reach across the divides that threaten our Union today, not as an elected leader but as a citizen, a trust holder of democracy. To make this something other than a forced exercise in altruism—which always leads me to feel-good failures that end in a pathetic “God knows I tried!”—I needed to find a true point of identity with people whose basic beliefs are contrary to mine.” (page 4)
Palmer quotes Abraham Lincoln to the effect that by its nature, American democracy cannot be destroyed by foreigners, “as a nation of free people, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” Palmer comments, “If American democracy fails, the ultimate cause will not be a foreign invasion or the power of big money … or the internal communist/socialist/fascist takeover that keeps some Americans awake at night. It will happen because we—you and I—became so fearful of each other, of our differences and of the future, that we unraveled the civic community on which democracy depends, losing our power to resist all that threatens it and call it back to its highest form.” (page 9)
“I am not chasing the fantasy that someday we will ‘all get along.’ … Suppose that those who can never be reached comprise 15 percent of both left and right, roughly the proportion of my own extended family with whom I cannot talk politics! That leaves 60 to 70 percent of us who can learn to talk across our differences. In a democracy, that is more than enough to save the day.” Palmer points out that only 39 of 55 delegates signed the final document after the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The remaining 16 “took a pass on posterity.” (page 17)
“I will not plead for tolerance, a virtue so thin it is barely a virture: ‘Be of good cheer! I am willing to tolerate you!’ Nor will I spend much time pleading for better manners in public discourse: manners …are as thin as tolerance. The civility we need will not come from watching our tongues. It will come from valuing our differences.” (page 16)
“(Y)our heart will at times get broken by loss, failure, defeat, betrayal, or death. What happens next in you and the world around you depends on how your heart breaks. If it breaks apart into a thousand pieces, the result will be anger, depression, and disengagement. If it breaks open into greater capacity to hold the complexities and contradictions of the human experience, the result may be new life.” (page 18)
(Originally posted to my Open Salon blog on September 12, 2011)