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

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  436 Ratings  ·  74 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
ebook, 320 pages
Published July 15th 2011 by Jossey-Bass (first published January 1st 2011)
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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
Michael Kruse
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
Gary Lindsay
Nov 08, 2016 Gary Lindsay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 16, 2012 Pam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Dec 08, 2013 Aaron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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."
Feb 08, 2013 Silke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
J. Brent Bill
Sep 16, 2011 J. Brent Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Chuck Peters
Jan 18, 2012 Chuck Peters rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Core concepts are powerful. References are insightful. Challenge to media worth taking up.
K.A. Krisko
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Matthew Gutschick
Jan 08, 2017 Matthew Gutschick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 29, 2016 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Parker Palmer always brings out the best. Especially timely this year.
Apr 27, 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
Harry Allagree
Sep 25, 2016 Harry Allagree rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a long time I've had great respect for the work of Parker Palmer, almost an exact contemporary, being 2 years younger than me. Having lived through the same history of this country as he, much of what he says resonates & brings back memories of the struggles with reconciling the reality & aspirations of what he calls the "myths" of America. His explanation of the "heart work" necessary for working toward democracy was helpful, as was the concept of the broken-heartedness, which we al ...more
Rita Graham
Feb 25, 2015 Rita Graham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Gail Rogers
I agree with Parker Palmer that we as citizens need to step out of apathy or hopelessness and engage our hearts with our intellects to make our democracy work for all of us. He recommends living in the tension between how we envision the world and how we see it actually working. I found when I went deeper into that tension it just took me into a dark place. Maybe I already live in that tension.

Parker Palmer did say that he had just come out of a depression when he wrote it. He suggests organizin
Brian Gryphon
Aug 30, 2014 Brian Gryphon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about so much more than just politics. To be expected I guess from the author of “A Hidden Wholeness” and other titles. Palmer started writing it in 2004 and finished it over the following six years. During that time the troubling political landscape in the USA was, to some degree, mirroring “the diminishments that come with age” (page 1) that most of us who live past the age of 50 or so will experience.

He argues we cannot live in a democratic society without conflict: learning “how
Jan 19, 2012 Dnicebear rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Read  Ribbet
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
Feb 07, 2015 Theresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a good feeling when you feel like you're part of something. This book encourages an active participation in the democratic process. Since I serve on a local board, this especially resonates with me. There were many inspirational quotes, some history of democracy, and encouragement to open your heart to the diverse culture we have. It's not just a call to serve, however. I liked how the author talked about having an open heart first on a personal level before moving on to the public platform ...more
Jan 01, 2015 skye rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poli
A good book about how to reclaim democracy from a heart perspective, very different from political strategy, organizing theory, etc. A good complement to reading Ganz, Lakoff, etc - it all fits in together. My top take-away: "civil society" a.k.a. the public realm (distinct from private and political realms) is absolutely key to a functioning society. And ours has grown quite weak in many ways.

This then ties in to the idea that mass social movements are the only hope for our world - as in Becke
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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.” 10 likes
“We suffer, ironically, from our indifference to those among us who suffer.” 6 likes
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