After describing the dynamics of polarization in a previous blog, this second installment will highlight Parker Palmer’s essay entitled, “Five Habits to Heal the Heart of Democracy.” It contains important insights on how we come back together in our families, work places, communities and our country.

I’m taking some liberties with these five habits to give you my spin on them – especially as they relate to coming back together after a time of painful division.

Habit 1: An understanding that we are all in this together. In a culture driven by the ideal of rugged individualism and independence, Palmer exhorts us to remember that our destinies are intertwined with that of others – both humans and other living beings. He writes: “We must accept the simple fact that we are dependent upon and accountable to one another.”

Habit 2: An appreciation of the value of otherness.(see footnote) Our minds are wired to see the world as “us” and “them.” Differences are real and often uncomfortable. We go “tribal” in a heartbeat. But as Palmer points out, “the good news is that ‘us and them’ does not have to mean ‘us versus them.’” This habit is about remembering that those we think of strangers and adversaries have much to teach us.

Habit 3: An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Each day we encounter contradictions, differences, and gaps between what we hope for and what we actually get. We can become flooded with anxiety, anger, and confusion in the face of these tensions and contradictions. This habit is about seeing tension and conflict as a generative force. Just as wildfires destroy, they also enable otherwise dormant seeds to germinate.

Habit 4: A sense of personal choice and agency. We can decide to step off the side-lines, to be a by-stander no more. No more being stuck in cynicism. No more second-guessing the value of your viewpoint. Healing requires your voice, your ownership, and your engagement. For those of us with privilege, silence can be a form of apathy or laziness or even tacit acceptance of others’ suffering.

Habit 5: A capacity to create community. Individual agency matters but we can’t do it alone. This habit reminds us to search out people who want to come together to speak across differences and to discover common ground. Our job is to create brave spaces in which people with opposing views feel held in courage, dignity and hospitality.

We have become fractured into ideological enclaves and we have literally turned away from one another. Parker Palmer challenges us to recapture the heart of our democracy by turning back toward each other – even in the face of contempt, fear, and distrust.

Which of these habits resonates most in your life as you think about the role you might play in healing the fractures?

Footnote, Habit 2: Parker Palmer’s definition of “otherness” seems to refer to the wide range of individual differences we have as humans, including those that might feel threatening or alienating. It’s worth noting that there is another use of this word in the field of Sociology that connects more with social identities and power.

Image credit: Derick McKinney on Unsplash/cropped

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