Five Habits of the Heart

We’ve seen for generations now that plugging a democratic constitution into a third-world country with a history of dictatorship is meaningless. Where the people lack the habits of the heart to sustain democratic institutions, a constitution is just empty words on paper. Parker Palmer lists five habits of the heart at the heart of revitalizing democracy and restoring the possibility of meaningful public life.

One: “We must understand that we are all in this together.... We must embrace the simple fact that we are dependent on and accountable to one another, and that includes the stranger, the ‘alien other.’”

Two: “We must develop an appreciation of the value of ‘otherness.’... Hospitality rightly understood…invites ‘otherness’ into our lives to make them more expansive, including forms of otherness that seem utterly alien to our way of life.”

Three: “We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Our lives are filled with contradictions – from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions.... The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life.”

Four: “We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency.... Many of us lack confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference.... Yet it remains possible for us, young and old alike, to find our voices learn how to use them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change.”

Five: “We must strengthen our capacity to create community. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks.... The steady companionship of … kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens.” (Healing the Heart of Democracy 46).

Thank you, Parker Palmer, for those reminders.

These are, of course, the habits of heart that we gather in our congregations to cultivate, week in and week out, 52.18 weeks a year.

We’re all in this together: interdependence is our vital principle, and we teach it to and learn it from each other in everything we do.

Appreciating otherness will always be the challenge that stretches us. We’re proud of who we are, and rightfully. Yet from that ground we examine – sometimes better than others – the ways we might not always be hospitable and inviting to people who aren’t already just like us. We know that’s our work.

Hold in tension the contradictions – such as beauty and joy of life and this precious world and also the grief of loss and pain – this is the business of faith community.

To empower each voice among us is the project of our democratic polity, and to be for each other the steady companionship that feeds our fires – this, too, is what we’re about.

And not just us Unitarian Universalists. Our friends the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Baptists – the Catholics and the Jews -- the Muslims and Hindus – they, too, are quietly nurturing the habits of heart to help our public keep alive the hope of a beloved community in which we all share, in addition to comforts of our separate tribes. We can do better at modeling the respectful hospitality of listening outside these walls, be more active healers of the brokenheartedness we feel at the loss of meaningful public connection. Dialog with those whose political views are opposed to ours is difficult, but it is the path both of opening ourselves to diverse gifts and of serving needs greater than our own.

Take for example an issue such as abortion – an issue that is now in the public discourse only in the form that has been called the politics of rage – though “rage is simply one of the masks that heartbreak wears.” (Palmer 5-6) Started in the early 1990s, the Public Conversations Project facilitates day-long encounters
“for people who differ on difficult issues like abortion where participants are forbidden from proclaiming their positions on the issue until the last hour of the day. Instead, they are coached in the art of personal storytelling and then invited to share the experiences that gave rise to their beliefs while others simply listen. Hearing each other’s stories, which are often stories of heartbreak, can create an unexpected bond between so-called pro-life and pro-choice people. When two people discover that parallel experiences led them to contrary conclusions, they are more likely to hold their differences respectfully, knowing that they have experienced similar forms of grief. The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.” (5)
If you find it difficult to talk to people with different political opinions, then don’t talk: listen. And not passively, but actively, paraphrasing what you hear to make sure you understand, and asking gentle questions about their personal story.

The first time Unitarian Universalism changed my life with a clearly demarcated turning point, I was in 8th grade. Since then, this faith has changed my life at a few other key junctures – until demarcating turning points came to be replaced with daily companionship along a winding path. This faith calls us always to a greater possibility for human community, a wider hospitality and openness of heart to be healers of our world’s heartbreaking divisiveness.

* * *
This is part 4 of 4 of "Democracy and the Meaning of Life"
See also
Part 1: Neither Skinner Nor Benedict
Part 2: Balancing Interests vs. Creating Selves
Part 3: Big Problems

No comments:

Post a Comment