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More Praise for Healing the Heart of Democracy

“In Selma, Alabama, on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1965, we were beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A few days later, we marched all the way to Montgomery. A few months after that, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. When we set out to cross that bridge, we wanted to bridge the divide of racial discrimination. The burden of race was too heavy; we wanted our country to lay it down. We Americans 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 and coauthor of Walking with the Wind

Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker J. Palmer is 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. In this time of civic rupture and discord, I wish this book could be placed in the hands of every member of Congress, every governor, mayor, and state legislator in America. May these words spark a new conversation within our communities, focusing on what binds us together rather than what tears us apart. And may we see this challenge to engage fully within public life not only as a calling, but as a personal commitment to our own ethical stance toward life. This is a book that calls forth our highest selves in the name of a spiritual democracy.” —Terry Tempest Williams, author of The Open Space of Democracy

“It is hard to imagine a single moment in American history when this book's wisdom would not have been invaluable, but it is even harder to imagine a time when such wisdom is more desperately needed than right now. Parker J. Palmer's unblinking gaze into the habits of the human heart, beginning with his own deeply personal introspection, yields the most important manifesto in generations for breaking through the divisiveness that has paralyzed our democracy to the point of making it almost unrecognizable. Palmer manages to share the most profound insights about our history, culture, and current developments, yet in the refreshingly readable tone of a caring neighbor who has kept a watchful eye on your house when you were away longer than expected. In its compassion, tolerance, prescription, and urgency, this book stands alone as a beacon showing what may well be the only tenable path forward for our nation in a perilous time.” —Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength and author of The Cathedral Within and The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men

“Parker J. Palmer's newest book is his most ambitious. Personal and prophetic, it blends heartache and hope, encouraging us to bring ‘chutzpah and humility’ to our public lives. The book awakens the open mind and open heart Palmer sees as essential to a flourishing democracy. No matter what our political leanings, all who harbor concerns about the quality of public discourse and decision making in twenty-first-century America will find here a wise and kindred spirit who reminds us of choices we can be making now to help ‘reweave the tattered fabric of our civic life.’ At stake is our common future and the vitality of the fragile democracy we inherited and neglect at our peril. If you find yourself feeling at times that nothing you do will matter, you will close this book appreciating how much you can do, and how much depends on you.” —Diana Chapman Walsh, President Emerita of Wellesley College

“This book is a gracefully written anthem to democracy. Not just the democracy of the vote, but a larger conception of the democracy of how we live together across all that divides us. Healing the Heart of Democracy breaks new ground in marrying the individual capacity of the human heart, broken though it must become, with the irresolvable tensions inherent in the institutions, politics, and aspirations of a nation. Democracy here is as much the will to welcome a stranger across the tracks as it is to reconcile very different ideas about what is good for a people. It makes democracy personal as well as political. Palmer also breathes new life into what it means to be a citizen—accountable, compassionate, fiercely realistic. The book is a political and personal imperative, reminding us of our covenant with the larger community of souls. The author has been the prophet to many for decades and Healing the Heart of Democracy will only deepen that gift and bring it out into new corners of this troubled world.” —Peter Block and John McKnight, coauthors of The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

“In this book, Parker J. Palmer brings together the wisdom of a lifetime. There is no one better suited than Palmer to illuminate that place where ‘all of the ways of our knowing’ converge, and to bring it to our common attention at this exquisitely heartbreaking and promising moment. This is the manual we need for refashioning our life together—for recovering the heart, the very core, of our selves and our democracy.” —Krista Tippett, journalist, host of American Public Media's Being, and author of Speaking of Faith and Einstein's God

“This book could not be more timely and needed in our country today. Parker J. Palmer gives voice to the yearning for democracy and a politics that honors the human spirit. As one who has been guided through a time of personal reflection with Parker, I invite you to join in a journey through these chapters. He examines the courage required to hold life's tensions consciously and faithfully—and perhaps, as our hearts break open, find ourselves standing and acting creatively ‘in the gap.’” —Congresswoman Lois Capps, grandmother, mother, nurse, and seeker after democracy

Healing the Heart of Democracy is a courageous work that is honest and true, human and humble, glitteringly intelligent and unabashedly hopeful. Parker J. Palmer has beautifully articulated our collective longing for constructive political conversation that holds the tensions of the democratic process creatively and respectfully. Here is a clear-eyed assessment of the pressing needs we face in our country and our world, framed by a conviction that we have the means within us and within our communities to meet the challenge. Palmer gives us constructive language, historical context, and a practical vision for how we as individuals and communities can get to the real heart of the matter.” —Carrie Newcomer, activist and singer-songwriter, The Geography of Light and Before and After

“In Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker J. Palmer brings his extraordinary vision and experience to bear on the widening divisions in our culture. Regardless of your political persuasion, this book is a sorely needed medicine in how we meet each other, listen to each other, and care for each other. This is a master work by a master: a clear and uplifting resource that keeps shining light in all the dark places. Chapter IV alone would help anyone rebuild a city. Like Socrates and Thoreau, Palmer is that rare, deep seer who is at home in the streets; an inner everyman who keeps speaking from a mind descended into the heart; a teacher by example who has the courage to stand openly and honestly in the public square.” —Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening and As Far as the Heart Can See

“Parker J. Palmer writes, ‘The heart of the world itself has an unwritten history.’ That was true until now. In this brave and visionary book, Palmer re-imagines our political lives, not as partisan shouting matches among a homogenous and disconnected elite, but as a deeply personal process within which all Americans—especially those of us inheriting this broken polity—have a chance to be heard, heal, and get on with the eternal work of perfecting this nation. As he recasts ‘the political,’ even the most frustrated and cynical among us are moved to ‘stand in the tragic gap’ with a renewed sense of our own quiet power.” —Courtney E. Martin, author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists

“This book is a ‘must read’ for everyone who is concerned about the state of our democracy and has ever despaired about what can be done. As you take in Parker J. Palmer's stories and plainspoken analysis, you will look at yourself and others in a different light; his penetrating insights will inspire you to claim your full human capacities and to take part in healing democracy ‘from the inside out.’” —Martha L. McCoy, executive director of Everyday Democracy

“Reflecting on the words of Parker J. Palmer in Healing the Heart of Democracy, I am convinced that all of us—as citizens and as elected officials—can learn to bridge the divides that keep us from genuinely respecting one another. In my own reflections on the meaning of democracy, I find encouragement in this inspirational book. Becoming good stewards of our democracy means having a commitment to our collective well-being, rather than each struggling to get his or her own. We must care about the common good, which means working for the many, not just the privileged few. Parker, through sharing his own life's struggles, reveals the common struggles we all endure in life. He also provides us with a way forward—a way forward with hope.” —Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin

“Parker J. Palmer has been our mentor as we've weathered the rough and tumble of political life. His work guides us again and again to seek grounding in the courage to embrace our own deepest questions. Now, in this compelling new book, he turns his unsparing insights to our wounded democracy. Palmer reminds us that democracy depends on citizens who not only engage with the political process but also engage with each other. He challenges us to recognize that a more vital democracy begins within each of us, as we learn to hold the tensions inherent in community life and no longer fear to tread that most difficult terrain—the broken places in our own hearts.” —Kathy Gille served for twenty years as a senior congressional aide. Doug Tanner, her husband, is a founder and former president of The Faith and Politics Institute.

“This is an inspiring book, one that should be read and talked about in every family, book club, classroom, boardroom, congregation, and hall of government in our country. Parker J. Palmer writes with clarity, good sense, balance, honesty, humor, and humility, focusing on the essence of what is needed from each of us for the survival of our democracy.” —Thomas F. Beech, president emeritus, The Fetzer Institute

Other Books by Parker J. Palmer

A Hidden Wholeness

Let Your Life Speak

The Courage to Teach

The Active Life

To Know as We Are Known

The Company of Strangers

The Promise of Paradox

The Heart of Higher Education

(with Arthur Zajonc and Megan Scribner)

Healing the Heart of Democracy


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Parker J. PALMER

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In memory of

Christina Taylor Green (2001–2011)

Addie Mae Collins (1949–1963)

Denise McNair (1951–1963)

Carole Robertson (1949–1963)

Cynthia Wesley (1949–1963)

Christina died when an assassin in Tucson, Arizona, opened fire at a public event hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded. Addie Mae, Denise, Carole, and Cynthia died when violent racists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy.

May the heartbreaking deaths of these children—and the hope and promise that was in their young lives—help us find the courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit.

The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?

—Terry Tempest Williams, “Engagement”1