Habits of the Heart

I was fortunate to hear Parker Palmer speak last week in a program sponsored by Courage in Schools (an initiative of Courage & Renewal Northeast) at Wellesley College. There were 120 educators in the room listening to and discussing his wise and timely thoughts on the five “habits of the heart” that need to be taught and nurtured in families, communities, classrooms, and schools. These are ways of seeing, being, and responding to life that he feels are critical to sustaining a healthy democracy:

  • An understanding that we are all in this together. Despite our illusions of individualism and national superiority, we are a profoundly interconnected species and are dependent upon and accountable to one another.
  • An appreciation of the value of “otherness.” The human mind naturally thinks of the world in terms of “us” and “them,” but we need to remember the ancient tradition of hospitality to, and learning from, the stranger.
  • An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. We need to acknowledge the “tragic gap” that often exists between our aspirations and our behavior, and to hold these tensions creatively so as to generate insight, energy, and new life.
  • A sense of personal voice and agency. We need to develop confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference in the world, our power to contribute to positive change.
  • A capacity to create community. Without a supportive community grounded in mutual respect, it is nearly impossible to achieve and express our voice. We need to plant and cultivate the seeds of community wherever we live, work, and go to school.

Parker Palmer’s words were inspiring and thought-provoking to all of us who feel that schools should be a place for actively cultivating those qualities of being that are necessary for the true flourishing of democracy in the 21st century. Rather than merely uploading and processing information, how wonderful it is when students also develop the habits of the heart necessary to appreciate one another, find their own voices, and create community. Parker reminded us that the Latin root of the word “heart” is cor, as in courage, and I thought it would be nice if this was added to the common cor standards for education.

What do you think of Parker Palmer’s five habits of the heart upon which democracy depends? Are there others you would add? Are these habits being nurtured in your school or workplace?

Richard Henning was the director of marketing for CRS, Inc. until July of 2014.

Tags: Empathy, Encouragement

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