[background music starts]
Mark: It’s November 9th. It's the day after the US Presidential Election of 2016.
Every meeting, every unplanned encounter I’ve had today - with friends, colleagues, strangers - everyone has begun with recognizing the shared sense of despair that we’re all feeling that I suspect many of you are feeling as well.
My name is Mark Coffin, and I’m one of the hosts of the Off Script podcast. Today, we were planning on releasing the first full episode of this podcast - podcast based on conversations we've had with former MLA's about their life in politics in Nova Scotia.
But we’re not going to do that anymore, at least not today.
Mark: We looked through the transcripts from the MLA exit interviews, and we're searching for some message or story that made sense to share today, this day after last night’s election. There were some, but none that connected close enough with what it is that we all seem to be feeling today.
Our minds are somewhere else. Our hearts are somewhere else today. And we suspect yours are too. We’ll pick up where we left off this time next week.
But this week, we’ll share something that doesn’t fit neatly with the rest of our podcasts. It doesn't include any speakers you'll hear from again, nor does it follow the format you'll soon become used to hearing from us.
I had an interview with CTV news this morning, about the US election results, and I was asked "Will shake our belief in democracy?"
An American writer and teacher by the name of Parker J. Palmer has an expression, that democracy isn’t just something we have, it’s something we do. It’s less about how we relate to our governments, or our country, and more about how we relate to one another.
Without a doubt, this election will shake our belief in democracy, our belief in basic assumptions about the people around us, certainly for Americans, but likely the rest of us too.
Parker Palmer wrote a book, entitled 'Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.'
Here is Parker Palmer unpacking what motivated him to write the book - which seems even more relevant today, than it was in the post-9/11 America world that he wrote it for five years ago.
It is from a series of video clips you can see on the Centre for Courage and Renewal’s website - an organization that Parker Palmer helped found.
Parker: The epigraph for this book is a quote from Terry Tempest Williams: 'The human heart is the first home of democracy.'
It's a very meaningful quote for me because it takes something that we usually think of as big, vast, outside of us, way beyond our control, and suddenly brings it home to a place where we can have something to do with how democracy happens, with the quality of our common life.
Terry Tempest Williams goes on to say that it's not that the heart has a yearning for democracy. We know that the heart yearns for many things. And sometimes it gives rise to something like the Third Reich out of the shadow side of the heart. And sometimes it gives rise to something noble and generous, and up building of community.
But Williams says that the human heart is the place where we wrestle with the core questions of democracy; Can we be generous? Can we be just? Can we care about our neighbor as much as we care about ourselves?
And so when I saw that quote, I thought there's a piece of this big puzzle that I can hold in my own hands and work with. In fact, if I'm a teacher I can work with the heart of my students. If I'm a pastor I can work with the heart of my parisioners. If I'm a parent I can work with the heart of my children. If I live in a neighborhood I can work with my neighbors' hearts.
So we all live some place where both our own hearts and other people's hearts are something we have access to. And the Terry Tempest Williams quote reminds me that democracy isn't just something that happens out there, in distant places, in the halls of government. But it begins in here and we can work with that in more creative ways.
The title of the prelude 'The Politics of the Broken Hearted' is an important phrase for me. We hear a lot of talk these days in this badly divided country of ours about the politics of rage and certainly rage is what we see on the surface. But I think beneath the surface there is an enormous amount of brokenheartedness in American life. The brokenheart that comes from realizing that some of our most cherised values and visions are not being achieved, that we are kind of lost and have turned against each other as if you were the enemy or I were the enemy.
That's not just a sociological observation for me. This book really came out of my own brokenheartedness. Somewhere in the middle of the last decade, somewhere between 2000 and 2011 I started to become deeply disheartened and discouraged about the apparent willingness of Americans to give up on core values of our democracy. I needed to go deep within myself to find out where that brokenheartedness was coming from, and what I might do to use that energy creatively rather than turn towards rage, or disengagement or some other way of taking myself out of the action.
In so many ways writing the book was a kind of therapeutic act for me. But I don't think I would've written it if I hadn't felt that many other Americans are in the same boat.
In writing the prelude I became fascinated with the story of Abraham Lincoln, who himself was a brokenhearted man; but who learned how to let his heartbreak open rather than apart; who learned how to let his brokenheartedness give him more capacity to hold a nation that were together; to affirm the value of all people in that conflict; and to become a healer rather than a divider. That was the sense and the spirit that I wanted the book to convey. And so the prelude starts at that very personal point, and takes great encouragement from the example of Abraham Lincoln.
Mark: That’s Parker Palmer Author of “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit”. You can see his full talks about that book online at the Centre for Courage and Renewals website - couragerenewal.org/democracy, where you can also order the book.
Another thing you might do is to consider making a donation to the centre for courage and renewal.
The centre for courage and renewal is an American charity with the mission of “creating a more just, compassionate, healthy world, by nurturing personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it.” Something I’m sure we can all get behind.
I’ll leave you with one more piece of wisdom from Parker Palmer. This is from a commencement address that he gave to the graduating class at Naropa University.
Naropa is a Buddhist college in Colorado, and you needed to know that in order to get some of the jokes.
Parker: To grow and love in service you, I, all must value ignorance as much as knowledge, and failure as much as success. I know this is ironic advice on graduation day but clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So cultivate beginner's mind. Walk straight into your not knowing and take the risk of failing and falling again and again. Then getting up again and again to learn. That's the path to a life lived large in service of love, truth and justice.
Second, as you integrate ignorance and failure into your knowledge and success, do the same with all the alien parts of yourself. Take everything that's bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism. Let your generosity meet your greed. Let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow - even Buddhists, even Quakers, even high-minded people like us. Especially high-minded people like us!
But when you are able to say "I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light," the shadow's power is put in service of the good. Wholeness is the goal, that wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life, as a person who, as Jerry said, has made three deep dives into depression along the way. I do not speak lightly of this. I simply know that it is true.
As you acknowledge and embrace all that you are, you give yourself a gift that will benefit the rest of us as well. Our world is in desperate need of leaders who live what Socrates called an examined life.
In critical areas like politics, religion, business and the mass media, too many leaders refuse to name and claim their shadows because they don't want to look weak. With shadows that go unexamined and unchecked they use power heedlessly in ways that harm countless people and undermine public trust in our major institutions.
If you value self-knowledge you will become the leaders we need to help renew the society. But if for some reason - and I doubt that there is anyone like this here - if for some reason you choose to live an unexamined life after you leave this place, I beg of you, do not take a job that involves other people.
Third, and critically important - as you welcome whatever you find alien within yourself, extend that same welcome to whatever you find alien in the outer world. I don't know any virtue more important these days than hospitality to the stranger - to those we perceive as "other than us."
The old majority in this society - people who look like me - is on its way out. By 2045 the majority of Americans will be people of color. The sad fact is that many in the old majority fear that fact and their fear - their fear shamelessly manipulated by too many politicians - is bringing us down.
The renewal this nation needs will not come from people who are afraid of otherness and race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. It's because of that fear that our once vital society is grid locked and stagnant. And our main hope for renewal is diversity welcomed and embraced.
I recently met a professor on a visit to Southern California who had left a prestigious institution - predominantly white - to teach undocumented youth in Southern California. I asked him how he was going and he said "Best move I ever made - my previous students felt entitled and demanded to be entertained. My undocumented students are hungry to learn, hardworking and courageous enough to keep moving out of their comfort zones. America will be renewed by people with these qualities.
Since suffering, I don't need to tell this to Buddhists, I just didn't know you could have so much fun. That's all, I didn't know! Since suffering as well as joy comes with being human I urge you to remember this - violence is what happens when we don't know what else to do with our suffering. Violence is what happens when we don't know what else to do with our suffering. Sometimes we aim that violence at ourselves as in overwork that leads to burn out or worse, or in the many forms of substance abuse. Sometimes we aim that violence at other people. Racism, sexism and homophobia often come from people trying to relieve their suffering by claiming superiority over others.
The good news is that suffering can be transformed into something that brings life not death. It happens every day. I'm 76 years old. I now know many people who have suffered the loss of the dearest person in their lives. At first they go into deep grief certain that their lives will never again be worth living. But then they slowly awaken to the fact that not in spite of their loss but because of it, they've become bigger, more compassionate people with more capacity of heart to take in other people's sorrows and joys. These are broken hearted people, but their hearts have been broken open rather than broken apart.
So everyday, exercise your heart by taking in life's little pains and joys.
[music starts, underneath Parker's voice]
That kind of exercise will make your heart supple the way a runner makes a muscle supple. So that when it breaks - and it surely will - it will break not into a fragment grenade, but into a greater capacity for love.
Mark: That is Parker Palmer author of “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit”.
You can find more of Parker's work at his organization's website couragerenewal.org
My name is Mark Coffin, and I’m one of the hosts of the Off Script podcast.
This is not our usual thing but we wanted to take the time on this day after the 2016 US Presidential election and come from where we have been for the past 18 hours and meet you where we suspect you are.
Next week we will be launching our first full episode at The Off Script podcast where we have conversations with former MLA's about their time in public life.
Off Script is produced by Springtide.
We are an organization dedicated to reconnecting Nova Scotians with the democratic process through education, research and public engagement.
One of the things we are working on related to the US presidential election is a civic dialogue. It's going to happen on the second last week of November, which will be going to be all about "What happens now? And how do we as Nova Scotians, Canadians, living in another country but deeply affected by what just happened go forward?"
We are still ironing out some of the details about that particular event including where it is going to be, and who is going to be speaking at it, but to stay in the know and be one of the first to get those details sign up for our mailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org to make sure you are aware of that, and other projects we are doing that is happening.
Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/SpringtideCollective and on Twitter SpringtideCo
[music loudens, plays for a while and ends]
Subscribe to Off Script in Your Favourite Podcast App:
You can also search for 'On the Record, Off Script' on apps not on the list.
Don’t see the Off Script podcast in your favourite podcasting app? Let us know and we’ll make sure it becomes available.