[Pic from My Bella Figlia]
Read a recent article that commented post-GE, there is still emotional irresolution. I agree – something feels weird. Perhaps this is part and parcel of transition. Now, having broken into a new space, we need to figure how to be who we are within it. Maybe even pluck up courage to ask uncomfortable questions about who we are – and want to become.
So the personal notes by Parker Palmer in the Spring 2011 issue of the Center for Courage & Renewal’s newsletter were timely. In Politics and the Alchemy of the Heart, he writes about a heart that breaks apart vs. one that breaks open. Granted, it is a different country and environment that he writes about and for, but some of the perspectives and questions are relevant and instructive.
… How do we hang on so we can hang in for the long haul in our personal, professional, and public lives? For me, one of the best answers is to use our despair as fuel for some sort of creative act. Creativity is the alchemy that can take a spirit-killing experience and transform it into something that gives life: planting a garden, reaching out to someone in need, creating a project, becoming a change agent, or whatever one is gifted and called to do. …
… The book was inspired in part by Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French intellectual who visited the United States in the 1830s. He returned home to write the brilliant and prophetic Democracy in America where he argued that America’s future would depend heavily on the “habits of the heart” that its citizens developed in places like the family, neighborhoods, classrooms, religious communities and other voluntary associations, and the many settings of public life.
Over the past few years I have come to understand how our habits of the heart and the places in which they are formed can help make the difference between a brittle heart that explodes into violence and a supple heart that breaks open into new compassion and new capacity:
- What are we doing in classrooms, for example, to help young people learn to hold conflicting viewpoints in a way that opens them to larger understandings of the world?
- What are we doing in religious communities to help adults deal with human diversity, including radical “otherness,” in trusting and trustworthy ways?
- What are we doing to preserve and expand the settings of public life where people with dissimilar backgrounds and viewpoints can meet, become comfortable in each other’s presence, and be reminded that we are all in this together?
… Politics is the way “We the People” work together to craft a common life. It starts with how we relate to each other in the everyday venues of our lives as we raise our children, talk with our neighbors, walk across lines of racial and religious difference, deal with people in the workplace, express ourselves and listen to others on the issues of the day. We don’t have to wait for the next election to get politically engaged. We can do it right now, at work and at home. I now understand that, ultimately, democracy begins even closer than work and home. It begins in the human heart, which hosts an endless and profoundly consequential debate about democracy’s challenges. …
From the little I see, the process and aftermath of GE 2011 has revealed that many hearts are breaking apart rather than breaking open. For every piece of considered writing, I would find at least three verbally venomous ones. Textual violence. And I actually know a few people who continue to harbour resentment towards each other and/or the results, leading me to wonder how and when we will see divides along political lines manifested.
Even as we spend the next 5 years keeping watchful eyes on elected MPs to fulfill the promises they have made, even as we expect to see change, we would do well to use these 5 years to also consider our own “habits of the heart”. What does being a ‘good citizen’ mean? What does being ‘politically engaged’ mean? What does having ‘head, heart and hands at work’ mean? And how do these play out in our everyday venues? Our children are watching. Our neighbours are watching. Our colleagues are watching. Our friends and families are watching. How we are going to be who we are – and want to become – in this new space we have broken into.