Chapter 4 Healing the Heart of Democracy
“The human heart is the first home of democracy.”
“The heart is where we wrestle with questions on which democracy hinges.”
According to Parker Palmer the word heart comes form the Latin cor. Because of its origin the word heart references our emotions as well as the core of the self, which is at the very center of our being. All our ways of knowing come together in our hearts: intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, experiential, relational and information from our bodies. He also sees the heart as the center for the heart/brain connection, which we integrate with all our other sources of knowing. Courage also is derived from the Latin root, cor.
Viewing politics from the point of view of the heart moves it out of the arena of a game of tactics, strategies and might makes right. “Rightly understood, politics is no game at all. It is the ancient and honorable human endeavor of creating a community in which the weak as well as the strong can flourish, love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day. ‘We the People’ build a political life rooted in the commonwealth of compassion and creativity still found among us, becoming a civic community sufficiently united to know our own will and hold those who govern accountable to it.”
Making it work
Being able to agree to disagree is one of the gifts democracy gives us, particularly when we can use this energy to create a third and even greater alternative.
Because democracy is suppose to be a government of the people and by the people and for the people this tension always exists for a good reason. This basic premise becomes a continual “experiment in the strength and weakness of our political institutions, our local communities and associations, and the human heart. Its outcome can never be taken for granted.” It “is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into community, conflict into the energy of creativity, and tension into an opening toward the common good.
“For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive…the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as opening to new life o us and for our nation.”
Tension is created by differing ideas, perceptions and points of view. A relationship where opposites attract can have enough common ground to provide a platform from which to create. The tension builds once the honeymoon phase is over and what was once cute or endearing becomes a real bother. Do we let this tension drive us apart or create the whole greater than the sum of its parts? Do we allow this tension drive us to creative solutions or angry disagreements? Can we allow ourselves to grow from conflict, differing points of view or different ways of understanding to something that is greater than when we began?
Parker Palmer encourages us to engage our differences rather than evade them, to embrace the tension of differences in order to develop a true democracy. He recommends that we listen to each other openly and without fear in order to learn how much we have in common despite our differences. Hold what we believe and know with conviction and at the same time be willing to listen openly to other viewpoints, allows us to change our minds if it promotes a better outcome.
When we can put ourselves in another’s shoes by opening up to listening with empathy, in this way we can entertain someone else’s perspective and opinion even if they are radically different from our own. By opening up to understanding another by asking question and exploring why they feel the way they do we engage in a dialogue that deepens our view. To really work to understand the other as well as deepen our understanding of our own point of view creates movement in a process.
If we put our hearts into it we can learn a lot from each other and from our differences. When we are willing to expand our perceptions and ways of responding to accommodate another our differences can enhance our perspectives and enrich our hearts and minds. This applies in relationships, communities and in the process of democracy.
When entering the complex arena of politics, we are become available and capable of holding the dynamics of that complex force field in a way that keeps the government accountable to the people it governs. By engaging in collective problem solving and decision making, which in turn generates better solutions as we work with competing ideas. There is an excitement at being an active participant in a process where our voices are heard and taken into account. We are able to grow with respect and acceptance of difference especially when we can enjoy the fruits of diversity.
A positive response to terrorism
Usually terrorism strikes deep fear in the hearts of the best of us. There are many groups throughout the world who use this ploy as a way to gain recognition in putting forward their cause. Even in the U.S. the terrorist attack of the twin towers is used year after year to foment fear. As the films are replayed over and over, we are reminded that we are vulnerable. This vulnerability has been used to create more centralized power in our government, and to justify a “war on terrorism” that has cost the lives of many innocent victims, including our own soldiers and has been used to justify more tax money spent to build a stronger military complex. What if there was another way to respond?
There were two very interesting responses to terrorist attack in Paris, which occurred just before the Climate Change Summit in 2015. The way these two people responded takes away the power of terror. If people do not respond to terrorist attacks with fear then there is no reason to create more terror. It completely undermines the purpose of those behind these heinous actions.
The following is an email sent by Nicholas Haeringer of 350.org.
There are times when words are hard to come by, and when you find them they feel inadequate. I’m writing you from France, with a heavy heart. Following Friday’s attacks in Paris, the mood here is tense. People are angry, and many are afraid. Many of our staff members are in Paris to get ready for the climate talks in a couple of weeks, and they are feeling the pain of this moment sharply.
I am heartbroken — for the lives lost in Paris, and for those lost in Beirut and Baghdad, which also suffered devastating attacks late last week. Clearly the world is hurting in many places right now.
As we’ve struggled to find the right words and the right response to Friday night’s attacks, one thing rises to the top for me: The upcoming Paris Climate Summit is, in a sense, a peace summit — perhaps the most important peace summit that has ever been held.
We need global solidarity more than ever right now, and that is, really, what this movement is all about. Even as climate change fans the flames of conflict in many parts of the world — through drought, displacement, and other compounding factors — a global movement that transcends borders and cultural differences is rising up to confront this common existential threat.
Let’s hang on to that solidarity and love. Let’s learn from it. Especially at a time like this.
Friday night’s events were horrific, and we must clearly and unequivocally condemn such violence. Their aftermath has also been frightening though, and we should stand in equal condemnation of the instinct to meet violence with more violence. It is a cycle as old as it is ugly: after tragedy comes the rush to judgement, the scapegoating, the xenophobia and Islamophobia, the blame.
There is a real danger here that those already impacted by both the climate crisis and the wars that are so intimately bound up with it — migrants, refugees, poor communities, and communities of color — will be further marginalized.
If there is a thing we must resist, it is our own fear and short-sightedness. No government should use a moment like this to increase the burden of hatred and fear in the world — sowing suspicion, calling for war, and reducing people’s civil liberties in the name of security. This is a mistake we’ve seen too often before, compounding tragedy with more tragedy.
The Paris Climate Summit, scheduled to begin in just a couple of weeks, will proceed. The government is promising heightened security measures, which is understandable but also worrisome.
We don’t yet know what Friday night’s events mean for our work in Paris. The coalition on the ground is committed to working with the French authorities to see if there is a way for the big planned march and other demonstrations to safely go forward. We fully share their concerns about public safety — just as we fully oppose unnecessary crackdowns on civil liberties and minority populations.
We do know that this global movement cannot and will not be stopped: The Global Climate March — a worldwide day of action scheduled for November 28th and 29th — will also proceed, no matter what. We can think of few better responses to violence and terror than this movement’s push for peace and hope.
There couldn’t be a more important time to work for climate justice, and the peace it can help bring.
With love and determination,
Sent by Nicholas Haeringer of 350.org
Another wonderful response came after the Paris terrorist attack. Antoine Leiris posted this on Facebook.
“On Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you won’t have my hatred.
I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know-you are dead souls. If this God for which you kill indiscriminately made us in his own image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in his heart.
You want me to be afraid, to view my fellow countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have lost.
I saw her this morning. Finally, after many nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago.
Of course I’m devastated with grief, I admit this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will accompany us every day and that we will find ourselves in this paradise of free souls to which you will never have access.
We are two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all other armies of the world.
I don’t have any more time to devote to you; I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”
How amazing is the strength and beauty expressed from the heart in a time of deep sorrow. How inspiring to see alternative ways of responding to terrorist attacks. These responses steal the rug out from underneath of terror. Perhaps this kind of response is creating a new pathway that will shift us away from negativity and help us stay seated in the power of the heart that will allow an opening to new doorways and new possibilities.
“When all of our talk about politics is either technical or strategic to say nothing of partisan and polarizing, we loosen or sever the human connections on which empathy, accountability, and democracy itself depend. If we cannot talk about politics in the language of the heart—if we cannot be publicly heartbroken, for example, that the wealthiest nation on earth is unable to summon the political will to end childhood hunger at home—how can we create a politics worthy of the human spirit, one that has a chance to serve the common good?
“ …Thus we do violence in politics when we demonize the opposition or ignore urgent human needs in favor of politically expedient decisions.”
According to Tom Shadyac in his film I AM our DNA is built for democracy and cooperation. Darwin mentions love far more that survival of the fittest, affiliation and cooperation as well as the Golden Rule. In fact we depend on each other in order to be human. We are because we belong. The mirror neurons that we carry enable us to see someone suffer and feel it in ourselves, which makes us hardwired for a compassionate response.
In a participatory universe reality is really a relationship between parts. We are connected with all of life. When we see all of Nature as our family, our perception changes and the whole world changes. Nothing in Nature takes more than it needs. It is cooperative. When the body takes more than its share it becomes cancer. There is no evidence that war is human nature. Love is the force that has power. Critical thinking is powerful when it is followed by actions that make our hearts sing.
Catherine Quehl-Engel created a program to help people awaken their awareness to the interconnectedness and oneness of all of life. She wants to inspire people to live with love in order to lead and serve as instruments of peace. One aspect of her practice involves focusing inward and surrendering with softness to the deepest part of self as spirit and life force.
Her program outlines a process very similar to the heart-centered meditation, which establishes an internal experience of positive emotions and gratitude for those feelings. She then encourages the people to send out healing and compassionate energy from the heart to others as well as asking them to act as instruments for the energy of healing peace. People are encouraged to do this practice on a daily basis as well as informally at times during the day. When they feel pulled to send healing energy in the form of a prayer to someone or when they want to be a peaceful, calming and healing presence, they are encouraged to recall this practice.
Catherine Quel-Engel’s program could be used in tandem with Parker Palmer’s five habits of the Heart for a successful democracy.
- Understand that we are all in this together.
- Develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
- Cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
- Generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
- Strengthen our capacity to create community.
They both remind us that in order to participate in the process of creating a good democracy we have to be centered in our hearts, speak up, be heard and know in our heart of hearts that we have a right to express our feelings and our ideas. It helps to keep in mind that our personal ideas and visions are only one part of a greater whole. All contributions are taken into account and are important to the whole. This is not easy at all but essential to the healthy functioning of a heart centered democracy.
Our Global Community
With the advent of the Internet and cell phones, Skype and Zoom, and other technologies, we can be anywhere any time having a fabulous conversation with a loved one or a friend we lost touch with or someone we’ve never met before. This has brought forward both the good and the bad.
For example, pornography addiction is out of control. Years ago someone had to go to the sleazy part of town to a bookstore and hope that no one noticed. After purchasing a few magazines in a brown paper bag and they were hidden under the bed. Today in the privacy of our own homes, click, click, click and one can find instantly any kind of information. We can participate virtually or not. With all of these options available, people are spending an inordinate amount of time and money on them.
On the light side we can connect with friends from high school or trace a family tree or research anything we want to learn out about. We can watch old or new movies while lying in the comfort of our beds, track down our favorite bands, or keep up with the weather moment by moment. Although sometimes I think we would do better to walk outside or at least look out the window and see what the weather is actually doing.
We have cell phones have as much capability as some of the best computers. Instantly we can see how the traffic is ahead and be given an alternate route if necessary. The best advantage is that we have an immediate emergency connection if we need it. This ability to be constantly in touch also has its downside. I find it sad when two people are in a nice restaurant both talking on the phone to someone else. Or parents so enamored with their phones, they spend more time on them than with their children. Apparently the ten percent increase in unintentional childhood injuries is being seen as a side affect from parents otherwise preoccupied. Phones can easily become an addiction to instant social or information gratification. On the positive side smart phones and computers allow more parents to work from home, which cuts down on commuting and give more time to children and home activities.
As with anything these tools if used wisely, can enhance our living and if not, can destroy our positive connection with Nature and humanity, numbing us to violence and trauma. Make good thoughtful and heart centered choices and feel like you are a viable part of the global community.
 Tempest Williams, T. (July-August 2004) The human heart is the first home of democracy. Engagement, Orion Magazine.
 Parker, P. (2011) Healing the Heart of Democracy: the courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit. Jossey-Boss, A Wiley Imprint. San Francisco, CA. P.50
 Palmer, P. ibid. P. 8
 Parker, P. P. 9-10
 Palmer, P. ibid. P. 15
 Parker, P. ibid. P. 7
 Quel-Engel, C. (2014) Deep Abiding: Praying, Living and Loving from the Inside Out. Doctoral Dissertation presented to the Virginia Theological Seminary.
 Palmer, P. ibid. P. 44
 Novotney, A. (February 2016) Smartphone = not-so-smart parenting? Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. P.53