The Politics of the Brokenhearted

A retreat and conference with Parker J. Palmer on habits of the heart and the future of American democracy

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

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We invite you to participate in The Politics of the Brokenhearted, a retreat and conference with Parker J. Palmer sponsored by the Center for Courage & Renewal and in collaboration with Courage & Renewal Northeast, on October 21-24 in Boston, Massachusetts.
This gathering is intended for 75 people who want to reclaim the heart of American democracy and help heal the deep divides that threaten it. We will explore practical approaches to helping ourselves and others hold our political conflicts in ways that can help renew the quality of our civic conversation and the promise of our democratic institutions.

Citizens who are able to hold tension in a life-giving way within and among themselves can put democratic institutions to their intended use. As Joseph Ellis has written, the Founders invented a form of government that “was not about providing answers, but about providing a framework in which the questions could continue to be debated.” They left us a loom on which we can weave the fabric of a common life—if we have an inward capacity to turn tension into creativity, letting it open our hearts to new ways of seeing, hearing and being present to each other across our great divides.

Our days together will feature compelling ideas, large- and small-groups dialogues, poetry, story-telling, opportunities to reflect on and explore our own "habits of the heart," as well as performances by Carrie Newcomer. Carrie Newcomer is a rare breed of singer/songwriter: the kind who illuminates life with startling depth, humor and clarity. Praised by Billboard as a “soaring songstress,” Newcomer is an acclaimed musician who continues to create music from her uniquely spiritual and poignant take on the world.

Since 1997, the Center for Courage & Renewal has helped people in many professions reclaim identity and integrity in the work they do—renewing their vocational commitments, deepening their capacity to serve, and calling the institutions in which they work back to their highest purposes. The Center does much of its work in settings called Circles of Trust®, where the individual finds it safe to test his or her inward learning in the context of communal dialogue. The conference will be grounded in such circles, a “portable” form of community based on principles and practices that participants can use when they return home.


What You Can Expect from the Conference…

  • A thoughtful examination of democracy’s promise and perils
  • Dialogue about what “we the people” can do to renew the civic bonds and civil discourse on which democracy depends
  • Experiences, inspiration and practical ideas you can take home to help yourself and others develop democratic “habits of the heart”
  • Access to an ongoing community of support, online and face-to-face, thru the Center for Courage & Renewal

Note: The Center maintains a financial assistance fund. We especially encourage diverse/young leaders to request financial assistance in the registration form and will get back in touch to discuss your needs.

Parker Palmer on Democracy on the Web

Parker Palmer's article about this event in our Winter 2010 Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter.

More about Parker's new book-in-progress in our Fall 2009 Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter.

Politics of the Brokenhearted: On Holding the Tensions of Democracy Part of the Deepening the American Dream Series published by the Fetzer Institute in 2005. In this occasional paper, Parker speaks to the conflicts and contradictions of twenty-first-century life that are breaking the American heart and threatening to compromise our democratic values.

Bill Moyers sits down with Parker J. Palmer for a conversation about maintaining spiritual wholeness even as the economy and political order seem to come apart.

Parker Palmer on the Democratic Experiment Recorded on February 19, 2008 at the Commonwealth Club of California, Parker speaks on “America’s Democratic Experiment: Holding the Tension Between Reality and Possibility.” He argues that democracy requires us to do the soul-work necessary to stand in the tragic gap, evoking “the better angels of our nature” in ourselves and in our world.

An edited version of this talk, with an accompanying discussion at, can be found at the website of “Word for Word” from American Public Media.