by Parker J. Palmer
This foreword is taken from Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do: Stories of Living Divided No More (Hare and Leboutillier, 2014).
From the moment I began writing fifty years ago, I’ve known that my ideas wouldn’t matter much if they simply sat there, inert, on the printed page. So I am deeply grateful for people who “put wheels” on those ideas—people who find ways to take their inner work into the outer world and show up on the job and in other parts of their lives with their identity and integrity intact.
The contributors to this book have done exactly that. Here they share their stories of what it means to decide to “rejoin soul and role” and live “divided no more.” All of them found support for that decision in various programs offered by the Center for Courage & Renewal: The Courage to Teach, The Courage to Lead, and Circles of Trust. Their stories offer real-life examples of the Center’s mission to create a more just, compassionate and healthy world by nurturing personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it.
All of these people are participants in what I have called the “movement model of social change.” The movements from which I drew this model sometimes have big names—the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the Velvet Revolution. But at bottom, the movement I have in mind has been unfolding in ways small and large since our species first achieved consciousness. It is the ancient movement to fulfill the human possibility, a movement that’s forever calling us to embody what it means to be truly human.
I want to say a few words about “the movement way” to offer insight into what has sustained the people whose stories are in this book—and can sustain all of us—in the journey toward an undivided life. In every movement I know anything about, four distinct stages can be discerned. These stages do not unfold as neatly as the following list suggests—they often overlap and circle back on each other. Nonetheless, extracting these stages from the chaos of history not only helps us see history more clearly. It also helps us get clear about what we can do to support and sustain the human possibility in our own time:
- DIVIDED NO MORE: Isolated individuals make the decision to stop leading “divided lives.”
- COMMUNITIES OF CONGRUENCE: These people discover each other and join in community for mutual support.
- GOING PUBLIC: Empowered by community, movement advocates find public voice.
- ALTERNATIVE REWARDS: Movements develop—and become—alternative reward systems, thus weakening the sanctions that are the basis of every institution’s power.
STAGE ONE: Divided No More
A movement is sparked when isolated individuals decide to stop leading “divided lives.” Most of us know from experience how a divided life feels. Inwardly we know the truth about who we are, but outwardly we defy that truth; inwardly we know the soul’s imperative for our lives, but outwardly we respond to demands of another sort. This is the human condition, of course: our inner and outer worlds will never be in perfect harmony. But there are extremes of dividedness that become intolerable—and when the pain becomes too great for this person, then that person, and then another, a movement may be underway.
The decision to stop leading a divided life, made by enough people over a long enough period of time, may eventually have political impact. But at the outset, this decision is a deeply personal one, taken not for the sake of some political goal, but for the sake of personal wholeness. I sometimes call it the “Rosa Parks decision” in honor of the woman who decided, on December 1, 1955, that she could sit wherever she liked on that city bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
Rosa Parks’s decision was neither random nor taken in isolation. She served as the secretary of the local NAACP, had studied nonviolent social change at the Highlander Folk School, and had been involved in many conversations with local activists about a Montgomery bus boycott. But on December 1, 1955, her immediate motive was not to spark the modern civil rights movement.
Years later, she explained her decision with a simple but powerful image of personal wholeness: “I sat down because I was tired of giving in.” She meant, of course, that she was soul-weary of collaborating with a system that denied her humanity, that treated her as less than the full and worthy human being she knew herself to be.
The power of a movement lies less in attacking some enemy’s untruth than in naming and claiming a truth of one’s own. The decision to live “divided no more” is less a strategy for changing other people’s values than an expression of the elemental need for one’s own core values to come to the fore. There is immense energy for social change in such inward decisions as they leap from one person to another and outward into the larger society. With these decisions, individuals can set movements in motion that create change from the inside out.
But how do people find the courage to declare their personal truth in the public arena, knowing that when they do, they are likely to be punished in ways that range from ridicule to marginalization to the loss of their livelihoods? The answer, I think, is that these people have reframed the logic of punishment in a way that liberates the soul. They have realized that no punishment anyone could lay on them could possibly be as bad as the punishment they lay on themselves by conspiring in their own diminishment, in the denial of their own integrity. With that realization, the power of the human heart is liberated in a way that, properly disciplined and deployed, has the potential to change the world.
STAGE TWO: Communities of Congruence
The decision to stop leading a divided life comes from a place of profound inner wisdom and strength. But it often takes us directly to a place of profound vulnerability. As I like to say—with only slight exaggeration—we make the decision to live divided no more on a Sunday afternoon, and we go to bed that night feeling alive and whole. But on Monday morning we wake up terrified: “What in heaven’s name have I done? I’ve put myself at mortal risk, and I stand to lose a lot!”
The decision to live “divided no more” is always made over-against a culture that advocates dividedness as the sensible, sane, even responsible, way to live. That’s why we have so-called folk wisdom such as “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve” and “Play your cards close to your vest.”
So in the second stage of a movement, people who have chosen the undivided life discover their need for a community that can provide countercultural support. They start reaching out to each other and entering into relations of mutual encouragement that help them sustain their decision. These groups, which are characteristic of every movement I know about, perform the crucial function of helping the Rosa Parks of the world know that even though they are out of step, they are not crazy. Together they learn that culturally-approved behavior can be mad, but seeking integrity is always sane.
In these “communities of congruence,” people have a chance to practice the undivided life, to exercise and strengthen the spiritual muscles it requires, and to deal with some of its consequences in the company of others who are on the same path. They also have a chance to develop visions of change that go beyond the individual to the larger society, and tactics and strategies for pursuing those visions that make these communities a power for change in the larger world.
The history of all social movements makes it clear that “base communities” are vital if the inner decision to live divided no more is to be sustained in a way that allows the movement to gather steam, establish trajectory, and take the next crucial step: from the security of the communal incubator into the challenges of the public realm.
STAGE THREE: Going Public
As individuals gather over time in communities of mutual support and encouragement, they learn to translate their private concerns into public issues—and they grow in their ability to give public voice to these issues in compelling ways. To put it more precisely, in these groups of like-minded folk, people discover that their problems are not “private” at all but have been occasioned by public conditions and therefore require public remedies.
Take, for example, the women’s movement. For a long time, women were “kept in their place” partly by a culture that relegated the pain women felt to the private realm, treating it as grist for the therapeutic mill. But when women came together and began discovering how widely shared their “private” pain was, they also began discerning its public roots. “Going public” for women meant a movement from Freud to feminism, from psychology to politics, from the therapeutic couch to the streets and the mass media.
This translation of private pain into public issues goes far beyond the sociological analysis. It also empowers people to take those issues into public places and demand public solutions. It was in small groups—notably, in churches—that African Americans were empowered to take their protest to the larger community in songs and sermons and speeches, in pickets and in marches, in open letters and essays and books. The support provided by communities of congruence encourages people to take the risk of exposing insights, feelings and fact that had once seemed far too fragile to survive publicity in the rough-and-tumble public realm.
I am using the word “public” here in a way that is more classical than contemporary. The public I have in mind is not to be equated with institutional politics. Instead, to “go public” is to put one’s values and beliefs—indeed, one’s selfhood—into the mix of communal discourse. It is to project one’s convictions and commitments in ways that allow others to hear them, respond to them, and be influenced by them—and, in the process, to allow one’s values and beliefs to be tested and refined in the crucible of public life. The public, understood as a vehicle of discourse, is “pre-political.” It is a foundational process of communal conversation, conflict, and consensus on which the health of institutionalized political power depends.
The writers in this book are taking a step towards going public by sharing their stories. Because this activity does not have direct political impact, some skeptics may call it “mere words.” But this critique comes from an organizational mentality as contrasted with a movement mentality. As movement participants around the world can testify, by giving public voice to our stories we contribute to something more fundamental than political change: we help create cultural change.
STAGE FOUR: Alternative Rewards
As a movement passes through the first three stages, it offers rewards to people for sustaining the movement itself, rewards that are integral to the nature of each stage. For example, they are the rewards that come from living one’s values, from belonging to a community of support, from finding a public voice.
But in stage four, a more systematic pattern of alternative rewards emerges—and with it comes the capacity to challenge the power of dominant organizations.
The power organizations have over our lives depends on a system of rewards and punishments. For example, the institutional racism that is laced through all of our dominant organizations involves an oppressor group which gains rewards by keeping another group “in its place”—while the oppressed group stays “in its place” for fear of the punishment that will come if it does not. But as members of one or both groups discover the rewards that come from alternative behaviors, institutional racism starts to lose its grip.
In the case of the Civil Rights movement, many African Americans discovered the rewards that come from acting on one’s deepest needs and expressing one’s deepest sense of “true self.” At the same time, some whites began to discover the rewards that come from embracing diversity, which include the vitality that comes from interacting with people beyond one’s “tribe,” and the ease that comes from feeling more at home on the face of a very diverse earth.
Additional “alternative rewards” come with the growth of the movement itself. For example, the affirmation one fails to receive from organizational colleagues is received from movement friends and allies. The meaning one fails to find in conventional work is found in the work of the movement. The paid work one cannot find in dominant organizations is found in the jobs that need to be done to keep a movement alive. Careers that no longer satisfy are transformed in ways inspired by the movement.
“Alternative rewards” may seem frail and vulnerable when compared to the salary raises, promotions and social status that our dominant organizations are able to bestow upon their loyalists. In certain respects, they are: “integrity,” as the cynics say, “does not put bread on the table.” But people who are drawn into a movement generally find that stockpiling bread is not the most fundamental issue for them. If they have the bread they need, they learn the wisdom of another saying: “Men and women do not live on bread alone.” In the absence of integrity, we may survive but we cannot thrive.
In stage one, people who decide to live “divided no more” realize that no punishment could be worse than living in a way that denies their own integrity. In stage four, people begin to realize no reward could be greater than living in a way that honors their own integrity. These two points of insight bring a movement full circle from rejecting conventional punishments to embracing alternative rewards, generating power for social change as the circle gains momentum.
NAMING AND CLAIMING OUR POWER
For me, parsing the four stages of the movement model is far more than an abstract, analytic exercise. When we understand how this kind of social change typically unfolds, many of us can name and claim the fact that we are engaged in some form of the ancient movement for the human possibility. Now we can see that we hold in our hands a form of power that has driven real change among real people throughout human history, and ask ourselves the question, “What is the most responsible use of my power?”
In addition, we can use the four stages of the movement model to assess where we are today in whatever cause claims our devotion—and ask what we need to do next in order to help advance that cause:
- Is this a day when I need to decide once again to live “divided no more?” We are constantly challenged to compromise our integrity, so this foundational decision needs to be renewed time and time again.
- Is this a day when I feel a need for support in my desire to live with integrity, a day when I need to look actively for a “community of congruence”, perhaps creating one for myself?
- Is this a day when my friends and allies and I need to start “going public” with our commitments—risking the slings and arrows that come with that decision, but knowing that the time has come to start seeking the leverage required to create the change we want and need?
Movements for social change always meet with opposition because they challenge the status quo and slam into the inertia that comes with “the way things have always been done.” But people who have embraced a “movement mentality” are neither discouraged nor defeated by opposition. Instead, they take energy from it. They read resistance as a sign that they are on the right track, and feel validated in their audacious belief that change must come.
At every stage of a movement there is both encouragement for the disheartened and the power to advance important forms of social change. Wherever we are on this journey, a step taken to renew and sustain our spirits can be a step towards personal and social wholeness—once we understand and embrace the movement way.
This foreword is taken from Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do: Stories of Living Divided No More (Hare and Leboutillier, 2014).
About the Author
Parker J. Palmer, founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a world-renowned writer, speaker and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. He has reached millions worldwide through his nine books, including Let Your Life Speak, The Courage to Teach, A Hidden Wholeness, and Healing the Heart of Democracy. Parker holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, along with eleven honorary doctorates, two Distinguished Achievement Awards from the National Educational Press Association, and an Award of Excellence from the Associated Church Press. In 2010, Palmer was given the William Rainey Harper Award whose previous recipients include Margaret Mead, Elie Wiesel, and Paolo Freire. In 2011, he was named an Utne Reader Visionary, one of “25 people who are changing your world.”