Democracy from the inside out: Let the conversation begin!
by Parker J. Palmer
NOTE: The webcast was recorded.
I am happy to announce that on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time—through the digital magic known as a webcast—we will kick off a series of conversations about “doing democracy from the inside out.” I’ll be in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, with a small audience. I’ll give a thirty-minute talk about some key issues in American democracy and then be joined by conversation partners who see these issues from different vantage points. The webcast will take one hour and can be viewed on any up-to-date computer in any setting that offers internet access.
For thirty-five years, my writing has been driven by the desire to contribute to meaningful conversations around important topics, conversations that might lead to personal and social transformation. Never has that motivation been stronger than with my new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. The book was developed in collaboration with my colleagues at the Center for Courage & Renewal, and for more than a decade, conversations in support of transformation have been the Center’s stock-in-trade.
We invite you to gather a group of family, friends, neighbors, parishioners, colleagues, etc., to watch the webcast and then stay on for a while for a discussion. You do not need to read my new book to participate. The webcast will include an array of topics and focused questions to help participants explore their own civic values, share their concerns about our current political climate, and imagine human-scale things they can do to help reweave the civic fabric in their own communities. Following this October 11 event, the Center for Courage & Renewal will provide additional materials and opportunities to help interested people continue the conversation.
In Healing the Heart of Democracy, I discuss five “habits of the heart” that we need to cultivate in our lives as citizens:
• An understanding that we are all in this together
• An appreciation of the value of ‘‘otherness’’
• An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
• A sense of personal voice and agency
• A capacity to create community
Those habits of the heart—and the venues of local life in which they are formed—constitute democracy’s infrastructure which, like our physical infrastructure, is in serious disrepair. We believe that our approach can help restore it. We also believe that the thousands of people who have been through the Center’s programs can help by exercising leadership in some of those “habit-forming” venues of local life: the family, the neighborhood, classrooms, congregations, and workplaces of many sorts.
Edited to note: Good group discussion, like any good democracy, hinges upon the ability of people to talk meaningfully about what matters. In preparation for the webcast, we've created two important resources for those who are hosting local viewings. One is a discussion guide that provides a basic framework for how one might prepare for and structure group reflection following the webcast. The other is a handout with a detailed description of the five habits of the heart, outlined in Healing the Heart of Democracy, that will be central themes of the evening's webcast. Our hope is that both will give you the tools to create an environment where civic conversation flourishes.