We The People

Typically, there is much conversation about resolutions and personal improvement commitments in these first days of a new year. One wants to lose weight, another to read more books, and another to exercise more. All of these are fine endeavors. But here in 2021, perhaps it would be helpful to think about resolutions that are not just about our personal goals but ways to connect as we anticipate this new year returning us more fully to the idea of community. 

Given the significant amount of time we have spent in the last year by ourselves, we’ve had more than enough time to work on our personal goals. True, the baked goods were hard to resist while binge-watching “The Great British Baking Show.” And the gyms have been open and closed and reopened and then significantly restricted again, so a recommitment to increasing work out might be a good idea. And the temptation of Netflix and Hulu have lured us away from a good read. But perhaps we could resolve in this new year to think past our personal bubbles. 

With the inauguration coming up later this month following the tumultuous campaign of 2020 and the never conceded election results, the Abundant Aging bloggers were reminded of Parker Palmer’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy. A synopsis of the five habits suggested for this healing resurfaced as we prepared for this new year, and we decided to dive a little deeper into these over the coming weeks. 

The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones,
the place where our knowledge can become more fully human. (Prelude, Healing the Heart of Democracy, page 12).

 

Heart as Home

Palmer begins with this core idea from Terry Tempest Williams, “The human heart is the first home of democracy.” So, as we continue to stay close to our own homes in this new year, perhaps we could consider that democracy lives and grows and is grounded in our hearts. By placing this idea over the political notion that large systems, structures and organizations over which we feel we have no control, we have the opportunity to connect our inner convictions with the larger vision of the common good.

Again, from Terry Tempest Williams: 

"The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up – ever – trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?

 

There are several possibilities right there for new year’s resolutions! What would it mean to resolve to be equitable? Or what would it look like for me to concentrate on being generous in the coming year? And I love her next question: What would happen if I listen with my whole being? What if I offered my attention rather than my opinion? Or could I decide to act courageously in the coming year? And if so, what would that look like to us?

Finding Common Ground

In the prelude to Healing the Heart of Democracy, begun in 2004 and published in 2011, Palmer connects his journey through depression with the melancholy that Abraham Lincoln experienced in his life. Both men shared the heart pain of personal depression during larger political landscapes of divided opinions and views. Palmer found healing in Lincoln’s ability to embrace political tension that “opens our hearts to each other, no matter how deep our differences.” Finding common ground and hearing each other’s stories are the essential first steps. Palmer comes to believe that:

“We must protect people’s freedom to believe and behave as they will, within the rule of law; assent to majority rule while dedicating ourselves to protecting minority rights; embrace and act on our responsibility to care for one another; seek to educate ourselves about our critical differences; come together in dialogue toward mutual understanding; and speak without fear against all that diminishes us, including the use of violence.” (Prelude, Healing the Heart of Democracy, page 10).

 

And here we are again stepping into a new year. We know that many divisions in our country carry over from 2020. These divisions were not created in the past year or during the previous administration, or even in this century. They are deep. They are painful. And the heartbreak threatens us all.

We The People

As Palmer points out, our democracy begins with the words, “We The People.” If you and I are a part of that “we,” then each of us must find ways to claim and own and participate in and shape that democracy. And the place to start is looking within, looking as deeply as our hearts will allow. 

In the coming weeks, we will look at these heart habits that Palmer lays out to exercise this life-giving and unifying concept that binds us together. We will look together to find ways to consider equitable considerations for all. We will inquire about how to find ways to be generous with each other. We will resolve to give each other our attention. And we need to muster the courage to keep going, to keep working together, pushing past the weight of temptation just to give up. 

May your heart be open to connecting and reconnecting with the communities around you. And together, we will find that democracy can flourish for all.

About the Author

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, Executive Director of The Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins is the Executive Director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging. She is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, musician, fiber artist, and mother of two adult children.

View all articles by Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, Executive Director of The Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging