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Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
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Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  462 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
Hope for American democracy in an era of deep divisions In Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker J. Palmer quickens our instinct to seek the common good and gives us the tools to do it. This timely, courageous and practical work--intensely personal as well as political--is not about them, "those people" in Washington D.C., or in our state capitals, on whom we blame our po ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 6th 2011 by Jossey-Bass (first published January 1st 2011)
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Aug 04, 2012 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Parker Palmer has some important, insightful, and inspiring ideas about democracy, but I often found myself bored with this book, only becoming interested when he illustrated his philosophical point with a real-world example. (So this criticism may be more about my lack of attention span than Palmer's writing, but so be it.)

Nevertheless, this is worth a read: talking about everything from the decline of public spaces to partisanship to our educational system, Palmer argues that we need to streng
Feb 17, 2017 Joyce rated it liked it
Shelves: inspiration
Published in 2011, this book still rings true, perhaps even more so. We Americans have been greatly divided for a long time and sadly to say, remain so today.

This book discusses how we Americans can strive to bridge that gap because: "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 t
Michael Kruse
Feb 11, 2012 Michael Kruse rated it it was ok
I have really appreciated Parker Palmer's books over the years but this book is a profound disappointment. I quit reading at the halfway point. If you are a liberal/progressive, then I suspect you may enjoy the book. It plays very well into the meme that at core of the discord in our country are conservatives. I can't help but feel that Palmer missed an opportunity.

I know he is a Quaker pacifist. I've suspected his political views were to the left based on other writing I've seen. I have no pro
Jan 19, 2012 Dnicebear rated it it was amazing
Yes! I want to be involved in democracy that stays rooted in reality while dreaming of possibility and is willing to enter the gap between the two to bring it about. Parker Palmer has encouraged me in previous books to see myself as a teacher and to let my life speak. Now, I'm with him again into this exploration into being part of "we the people" in a way that allows respect and true sharing of who we are. "Life in the company of strangers" really seems possible here, and in a way that honors t ...more
Matthew Gutschick
Jan 08, 2017 Matthew Gutschick rated it really liked it
Proceeding from the premise that our democracy is dependent on individual and collective action, Palmer argues that the urge to act stems from a mix of hope and heartbreak. This fertile tension plays out in the private, public, and eventually political spheres. We rely on the development of five habits in sustaining productive democracy: 1. understanding that we are all in this together 2. developing an appreciation of the value of otherness 3. cultivating the ability to hold tension in life-giv ...more
Gary Lindsay
Nov 08, 2016 Gary Lindsay rated it really liked it
Parker Palmer began writing this book in 2004 and published it in 2011, but it is so timely it could have been written during the current election year. It speaks of the great political and social divisions in our country, divisions many are seeing as permanent and unreconcilable. This book is a thoughtful and thorough rebuttal of that view.
Parker's view is that we can bridge this gap by looking at our hearts for the cause of our division, and healing this chasm through constructive engagement.
Tired of the sniping, nastiness and cynicism in Washington D.C.? So is Parker Palmer. In his usual attempt to be a redemptive thinker, Palmer gives us a clear-eyed assessment of the situation, describing the broken-heartedness of our democracy. And again, as usual, he calls us to our better selves--to quote Abraham Lincoln--"the better angels of our nature." This is not the usual language heard around the beltway, but it's quite refreshing to hear from a wise, hopeful man about one way he can fi ...more
Read  Ribbet
May 22, 2013 Read Ribbet rated it really liked it
A gift from Kathy Champeau, I wanted to see what Parker Palmer had to say on this topic. Some I know follow his work religiously. Others like to quote him for inspiration while their actions seem to suggest otherwise. The tone of the book is somewhat somber and we come to learn at the end that Palmer found it hard to embracce writing on this topic. His own concern about where society is at after years of writing on compassion and wisdom must be a bit disheartening, but he remains hope-filled tha ...more
K.A. Krisko
Jan 11, 2017 K.A. Krisko rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I had a hard time with this book. i only managed to read a paragraph or two at a time, and I skipped the exercises in the back after a quick skim. I appreciate the general idea, but I found it rambling, disjointed, and heavy on the historical review, with very little actual suggestions for healing the 'heart' of democracy. I'll take very few ideas away from this into the future, I'm afraid, despite also attending several discussion sessions on the book.

It's well-written, well-edited, and well-fo
Jan 02, 2017 Deidra rated it really liked it
So many people say they "don't do/talk about politics" when nothing could be further from the truth. We all do politics every day. Our unwillingness to engage politics thoughtfully is what hinders a lot of forward movement, but some of our unwillingness comes from a lack of voices encouraging us to think differently about politics so that we can talk differently about politics. Parker J. Palmer does a great job of helping to reframe the role of politics in everyday life so that we can each be be ...more
Nov 16, 2012 Pam rated it it was amazing
Did this for book club, Pauline and I were the only two who finished it. That said, it gave me a truly good grasp on our private, public and political lives. We need to develop the habits of the heart that fuel and support democracy. I am so tired of people thinking participation In the political process is a waste of energy. Parker reminds us that we are democracy at its best and if we choose so, at its worst.
Loved this book, he has a great command of language, lots of epigrammatic phrases for
Oct 08, 2011 Marilynoregan rated it it was amazing
This book is the best antidote I know for confronting the apathy and, worse, defeatism that I can find in myself in the face of the ongoing barrage of bad news and pessimism that assault us daily. Yes, democracy can be preserved if we can reactivate the "habits of the heart" that permit us to be We the People. And this book by one of my favorite authors goes well beyond nice thoughts to practical ways to begin to restore our democracy to health.
Maughn Gregory
Jan 20, 2012 Maughn Gregory rated it really liked it
I've developed a deep fascination with the relationships between progressive political activism and contemplative practices. Gandhi. Jacob Needleman. Parker Palmer. Palmer is the most explicit about the many ways in which the two realms of practice need each other: self-work and working on the world. Meditation and marching. Strident witnessing and deep listening. This book is a modern classic in the prophetic tradition that calls us to fight inner and outer injustice at the same time.
Aug 04, 2013 Aaron rated it it was amazing
This book is so sincere, and so complete and humble. I can see why so many politician aspiring to a better world like it so much. I've just read it three times as it is part of study I've done on leadership and his ideas hold together so well... every time I thought some connection had been missed, I realized that it was there all along. I really like his ideas about meeting and embracing the shadow and that leadership has something to do with including the "other."
Nov 20, 2012 Silke rated it it was amazing
There isn't anything that Parker Palmer has written that I don't find worth reading, absorbing, and sharing. My kudos to Parker Palmer for taking the concept "Habits of the Heart," which also happens to be the title of a sociological must-read (Bellah et al. 1985/1996/2008) that connects with Palmer's work nicely, a level closer to application. Palmer's style is eminently readable and enjoyable.
Apr 05, 2013 Martha rated it liked it
Palmer said this was his hardest book to write, and I had a hard time reading it - in part because the topic is so important and I don’t have a lot of optimism right now. But I did glean some good things, and particularly enjoyed a few pages he had about strategies some neighborhoods had used to increase their sense of community.
Robert D. Cornwall
This is a must read book, especially right now. It speaks to the crisis we face and calls us to find ways of reclaiming and rebuilding the institution of democracy. I'll have a full review soon, but please read this book for the good of the nation and our local communities.

This is my book of the year!
Mar 20, 2012 Eric rated it it was amazing
Right on the money about this culture's illness and how, together, we can heal our democratic society. Ultimately, our problems will not be solved through political answers, but through a collective awakening of the heart.
Chuck Peters
Jan 18, 2012 Chuck Peters rated it it was amazing
Core concepts are powerful. References are insightful. Challenge to media worth taking up.
J. Brent Bill
Sep 16, 2011 J. Brent Bill rated it it was amazing
An amazing book that is much needed at this time. I highly recommend it to all who are concerned about faith, politics, civility, and the "soul" of the United States.
Dec 29, 2016 Jan rated it really liked it
Parker Palmer always brings out the best. Especially timely this year.
Mar 11, 2017 Phil rated it it was amazing
Politically relevant, personally enriching. Palmer once again enters the emotional and spiritual depths of the broken heart and shows us how to emerge with an integrated, healed, and "open heart" to engage in our public square authentically and with compassion. Resources to start community organizing using ideas from the book are available at Timely with helpful references.
Mar 06, 2017 Joanne rated it liked it
Palmer gives readers important insight and perspective, although I found the book repetitive. It is a good read on the fundamental beauty of democracy, with its push and pull dynamic, and its call to debate honestly and freely.
Apr 22, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Parker Palmer is a man with one good idea. In many ways he reminds me of my father, who was a remarkable preacher day in and day out, but who also had a song in him. Every now and then my mother or one of the deacons who had heard him in times past would press him to sing a "special," as it is called in my religious tradition. So Dad would eventually acquiesce and mount the dais to sing. He never varied in his choice of sacred music. Every special I ever recall hearing him sing was the same. "Ho ...more
Heidi Schlumpf
First book for reconstituted Women's Group. First nonfiction during my year of trying to read more fiction.
Rita Graham
Feb 20, 2015 Rita Graham rated it it was amazing
The use of the word heart in the title gives away the author's main belief, i.e. "a good society will emerge from the tension between freedom and discipline, between what the Constitution calls 'the blessings of liberty' and the rule of law. He sees the heart as holding transformative power, but can only release these powers when we make ourselves vulnerable to the demands for them. In other word he thinks of the heart as having to break open to release our "lesser angels" allowing us to face di ...more
Brent Ladd
Feb 05, 2014 Brent Ladd rated it liked it
Palmer weaves his own experiences over the years throughout the book. Essentially, the final two chapters help bring the message into focus. I had a hard time getting a spark going through the first 4/5 of the book. I did feel the final chapter brings it into perspective. Palmer is a fan of allowing ourselves to be okay to sit in the moments of "tension" and to "hold the tension" between dark and light, left and right, wrong and right, etc. and allow the heart time to listen and to eventually sp ...more
Beverly Atkinson
Jun 01, 2012 Beverly Atkinson marked it as to-read
Shelves: non-fiction
I plan to finish reading this book, with close attention, but it was due in the public library today (June 1, 2012). I'll resume with page 77. The core, for me, is Palmer's explanation of "Five Habits of the Heart." The one most challenging for me is to participate (openly) in conversations with others who may have perspectives different from mine, at least as far as I can tell. In the rest of the book Palmer will likely explain (or tell stories about) how one can have the courage to participate ...more
Jul 29, 2013 Hilary rated it liked it
Another great from Parker Palmer. He is arguing for us to be publicly heartbroken.

I appreciated the notes on the paradoxical nature of political and spiritual life, especially the references in the early part of the book about Abraham Lincoln. Parker (and biographer Joshua Shenk) argue that Lincoln was better able to lead because he knew the dark so intimately.

Also, liked the closing notes about measuring ourselves by faithfulness rather than effectiveness. "When faithfulness is our standard, w
Joan Porte
Feb 09, 2017 Joan Porte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is much that is good in this book but sometimes his writing style can be a little sleepy. Still it is a treasure trove of information on reaching out to people and discussing issues which is very necessary and poignant at this time.
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Parker J. Palmer (Madison, WI) is a writer, teacher and activist whose work speaks deeply to people in many walks of life. Author of eight books--including the bestsellers Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak, and A Hidden Wholeness--his writing has been recognized with ten honorary doctorates and many national awards, including the 2010 William Rainey Harper Award (previously won by Margaret Mea ...more
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“The more you know about another person's story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.” 12 likes
“We suffer, ironically, from our indifference to those among us who suffer.” 6 likes
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