Five habits from Parker Palmer

I had the opportunity to spend the day at Alverno College attending their “Community Conference 2013: The Art of Happiness.” The keynote speaker for the conference was Dr. Parker J. Palmer, who spoke of the five habits of the heart featured in his book Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage To Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (Palmer, 2011). The current political upheaval in Washington, D.C. seemed an appropriate backdrop for Palmer’s topic.

As Palmer’s speech unfolded he led the audience from looking at politics in a democracy as something private individuals passively observe to a process by which we build and reinforce the fabric of community. It was a pleasure to hear Palmer speak and to lead the audience to their feet at the conclusion of his remarks.

Five Habits of the Heart:

  1. An understanding that we are all in this together
  2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
  3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
  4. A sense of personal voice and agency
  5. A capacity to create community

The message I got from Palmer’s speech was of how the groups we are a part of can either lead to isolation and alienation from others or can lead us to a recognition of our own identities as a basis for our interactions with others. This led me to recognize how Palmer’s five habits speak to me personally as I work to develop Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) as a platform for the conversations that need to take place in order for persons with disabilities to integrate into the fabric of community and economic life.

As guiding principles, Palmer’s five habits provide guidance regarding the scope and limitations of constituencies. I have identified four core constituencies to be addressed through MoMS: persons with disabilities (pwds), persons without disabilities (pwods), advocates who work in the name of service to pwds, and those who partner in support of pwds.

When I originally started this journey I was naive enough to think Palmer’s first principle was enough. If we just recognized we are all in this together we could all be holding hands and singing “Kum ba yah” in no time. As my perspective on the topic has developed, I have come to recognize that each of these constituencies represents a distinct group or tribe. Tribal identification can be beneficial and advantageous for both the tribe as a whole and for the individual members of the tribe. What Palmer’s presentation added to my mindset was the value of holding tension in life-giving ways.

Palmer’s five habits were both a road map and reinforcement to the path I’ve envisioned for MoMS. They also serve as cautionary regarding the services I am developing in association with MoMS. The reinforcement comes in the affirmation of my original premise of MoMS. The cautionary comes in the development of specific services and service outcomes. Palmer’s five habits serve as a reminder that individuals find their own voice in their own way. The creation of spaces where people gain confidence in their own voices and engage with others in building community is as much a voyage of discovery as of anything else. My role in service to the conversations I hope to foster may best be delivered through facilitation and convening rather than through prescriptive practices.

Five habits link:,d.dmg

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