Tag Archives: Reflection

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:


A few hours (possibly) forgotten

I had a chance to visit with a lovely 92 year old woman named Francis yesterday afternoon as a part of my wife’s visit with an old friend.  Francis is the mother-in-law of my wife’s friend and had come along on the trip.  Until last year, Francis had been living in New York state .  She’s now living with her son and daughter-in-law in Arkansas.

It was great to learn of Francis’s life and family.  Her life has taken many twists and turns and has been shaped by such diverse forces as the great depression of the 1930’s, World War II, and the women’s movement.  One of the things that impressed me about Francis is how sharp and attentive she is.  My expectations of a 92 year old are of diminished senses and slow responses.  This was not the case with Francis.

When I asked Francis about what she is doing with herself to stay busy in her new home she mentioned her memory is not as good as it used to be and that she really hasn’t gotten into too many activities.  I let the remark pass without too much thought.  The comment came back to me later as Francis periodically repeated herself and its meaning was clarified later in the visit when Francis pointed out how beautiful New York is in the fall in response to her daughter-in-law’s suggestion we come to visit them in Arkansas.

As I reflected on my time with Francis I tried to put her memory loss in context.  Francis is very likely on a path of increased memory loss and her memory may likely fail her completely before she dies.  At this point however Francis is a wealth of wisdom and experience from a life well lived.  The millions of Francis’s in the world still have much to share, and we have much to learn, about relationships, hard work, dealing with change, and all sorts of things I don’t even have the experience to think of.  It was an honor to be with Francis and it would be a great loss if the wisdom she has accumulated in her ten decades of life were overlooked because her short-term memory is not what it once was.

A pretty little girl with Downs Syndrome

I just spent the evening with friends of ours who we have known through good times and bad. A major attraction of the evening for me was the opportunity to play with Rowena, their soon to be 1 year old grand daughter. I love kids and Rowenna is no exception.

I wasn’t sure how my first ever meeting with Rowenna would be since she is a little girl who has Downs Syndrome. My fears soon disappeared as we just had fun doing things middle aged guys to with 1 year old babies: just play and have fun.

But what about her future development? What about Rowenna’s life in the future? Will she ever be like other kids? Won’t she be a burden on society?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. As I reflected on my time with Rowenna I realized Rowenna might not contribute as much as some but she will definitely not be as big a burden as the people Fortune Magazine once honored and were referred to as “The smartest guys in the room”.