Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Habits Of The Heart

--by Parker Palmer (Oct 02, 2017)

“Habits of the heart” (a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville) are deeply ingrained ways of seeing, being, and responding to life that involve our minds, our emotions, our self-images, our concepts of meaning and purpose. I believe that these five interlocked habits are critical to sustaining a [society].

1. An understanding that we are all in this together. Biologists, ecologists, economists, ethicists and leaders of the great wisdom traditions have all given voice to this theme. Despite our illusions of individualism and national superiority, we humans are a profoundly interconnected species—entwined with one another and with all forms of life, as the global economic and ecological crises reveal in vivid and frightening detail. We must embrace the simple fact that we are dependent upon and accountable to one another, and that includes the stranger, the “alien other.” At the same time, we must save the notion of interdependence from the idealistic excesses that make it an impossible dream. Exhorting people to hold a continual awareness of global, national, or even local interconnectedness is a counsel of perfection that is achievable (if at all) only by the rare saint, one that can only result in self-delusion or defeat. Which leads to a second key habit of the heart…

2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.” It is true that we are all in this together. It is equally true that we spend most of our lives in “tribes” or lifestyle enclaves—and that thinking of the world in terms of “us” and “them” is one of the many limitations of the human mind. The good news is that “us and them” does not have to mean “us versus them.” Instead, it can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger and give us a chance to translate it into twenty-first century terms. Hospitality rightly understood is premised on the notion that the stranger has much to teach us. It actively invites “otherness” into our lives to make them more expansive, including forms of otherness that seem utterly alien to us. Of course, we will not practice deep hospitality if we do not embrace the creative possibilities inherent in our differences. Which leads to a third key habit of the heart…

3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.  Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior, to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. But when we allow their tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life. Making the most of those gifts requires a fourth key habit of the heart…

4. A sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak out and act out our own version of truth, while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. But many of us lack confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference. We grow up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama, and as a result we become adults who treat politics as a spectator sport. And yet it remains possible for us, young and old alike, to find our voices, learn how to speak them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change—if we have the support of a community. Which leads to a fifth and final habit of the heart…

5. A capacity to create community. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a way that allows power to multiply: it took a village to translate Parks’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can help us find the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. There are many ways to plant and cultivate the seeds of community in our personal and local lives. We must all become gardeners of community if we want [society] to flourish.

From Parker Palmer's Five Habits of the Heart.

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On Sep 30, 2017 david doane wrote:

 I agree with habit one, our seeing that we are all in this together, which I see as a fact and not an "impossible dream."  As for habit two, having an appreciation of the values of otherness, I don't have it.  I value uniqueness.  Otherness is an illusion.  I agree with the author that us and them doesn't equal us versus them, but us and them is a dualistic and separation perspective rather than a unitive and differentiation perspective and it leads to us versus them.  Regarding habit three, our living in the midst of a multitude of tensions is our lot in this life and is our ongoing challenge, like it or not.  As for habit four, it is the right and privilege and responsibility of each of us to find, trust, and express our truth and voice for our own life and for the life of the community.  With regards to habit five, individualness-community is one of those tensions we live in.  Individual and community appear separate but are really two sides of one coin.  There is no individual without community and no community without individual.  These beliefs foster compassion for me.  The fact that these beliefs make sense to me and foster compassion helps me inculcate them.

On Oct 1, 2017 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 Our society is plagued with divisiveness and polarization, discrimination on the basis of color, race, ethnicity and religion. Almost everyday we hear  or see aggressive and hateful behaviors not only in our country but in many other countries. If this goes on or increases, it will be very hard for societies to survive let alone flourish.

We need to form  and cultivate "Habits of the heart." The five habits discussed in this article are interlinked. We need to realize that we are all in this together, interconnected, entwined with one another. Let us not confine in the bubble of individualism and independence. As the author says it is an illusion. No man is an island. We all are like the waves of the ocean of humanity. We are interconnected and interdependent. 

Unfortunately and sadly, we our mindset and mind habits are shaped by the notion of "us versus them" rather than "us and them". We are each other's brother keepers. Knowing this and practicing this notion expands our consciousness and enriches our relationships.

We need to have our personal voice and express it courageously. We need to cultivate the courage to be ourselves and maintain our integrity. At the same time, we need to hear the voice of the other respectfully and empathically. Relationship is not a one way street.We need to learn and practice to be open to check and correct our truth against the truth of others. And this is the way we flourish our society.

It takes a village to create a social change. We all know how difficult it is to create a substantial change by oneself. We need to create a community of kindred spirits and join hands together for justice and fairness. Once we know with an awakened mind what is Truth-buddham sharanam gachhami. And then follow that true path passionately and consistently- dhhamam sharnam gacchamt . And invite our fellow brothers and sisters to join us-sangham sharanam gacchami. By inviting and embracing others, we can sustain and flourish the local and global society.

I have been spiritually enriching my life by joining my hands with kindred spirits in my family, in my work place and in my local community. I trust  and hope that such actions will contribute to the survival and enrichment of our society.

May we relate to one another in the spirit of togetherness to create transformation in our lives and the lives of others.


Jagdish P Dave 

On Oct 4, 2017 Amy wrote:

 Growing my heart helps me to bring to life these habits.  To grow my heart I ask God to join His to mine.  I have a sinner's heart which needs to be converted daily to become a more pure, open and more holy heart.  I am nothing in and of myself (habit 1).  God, Jesus and Holy Spirit  model so beautifully communion ... Working together for one common good ... Salvation (habit 2).  I do not act out of my own truth ... Because, as I said before, I AM NOTHING outside of God.  Nothing.  I act out of His truth ... As I know it. Amen (habits 3 and 4).  On habit 5, I need the most work!  My community is rather small.  The needs of aging people around me (not to exclude myself) are consuming me.  I need to expand my community big time!  I know this to be true.  God is prompting me too!  It will come as His will continues to be done here on earth.  I BELIEVE!