Democracy Under Construction. Photo by my 10-year-old son.


Have you noticed that it’s election season? Sigh.

As a person who tends to avoid conflict if at all humanly possible, I usually avoid political discussions unless I know we are on the same page or I just plan on listening.

As a person who writes mostly on matters of heart and soul, I also avoid writing about politics.

Yet, as Parker Palmer would tell us, the heart is the place where everything begins–especially democracy: the heart is “that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation.”

Palmer’s book Healing the Heart of Our Democracy is so important and so wise. Especially in this season. Everyone should read it. I usually don’t tell people what to do, but I am telling you: read this book.

Regardless of this election’s outcome, we the people have some work to do.

Palmer reminds us that there is and always has been a gap between reality and the aspirations on which the United States was founded.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.

These words have never been fully realized here in the United States. Not when they were written. Not now. But these words are still true. Palmer reminds us that there is a gap between reality and what could or should be. To stand in the middle of that gap requires hope, tenacity, hard work, and the willingness to let our hearts crack open. If our hearts are hard toward one another, they are just going to shatter. That won’t help.

Maybe now is a good time to start conversing with one another–not just talk at each other, not just see who can shout the loudest.

Maybe, regardless of political affiliations or opinions, we can find common ground–or if not common ground, at least understanding.

Maybe we can begin by asking: What do these words mean to you?

What does it mean that all men are created equal?

What do you think other unalienable Rights might be?

Do these rights apply just to Americans?

Do these rights apply to every person under the sun?

How do we live that way?

How do I live so that my rights aren’t infringing on another person’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

What is your American Dream?

What is your dream for your country?

What is your dream for this country’s children and grandchildren?

How does this dream fit into your dream for the world?

Maybe we might find more common ground at this dream stage–this hopeful and visionary part.

Then how do we pull it off? How do we work toward making this dream more and more real? I’m guessing that’s were we get a lot of different ideas about how to best achieve these things. This is where things get messy.

Maybe there isn’t just one way to work toward these goals. Maybe both sides have something to contribute. Maybe there are more than two sides.

Maybe instead of demonizing people who think differently, we can be curious. We can ask: Tell me why you think that? Can you give me examples? Tell me more.

The American dream isn’t just a government’s responsibility. It’s everyone of its citizens’ responsibility. How do we the people make this a reality?

How am I working on making my neighborhood, city, state, country, and world a place where all people are created equal with rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? How can we work together?

Let’s start listening.

And then let’s continue the slow and messy work of making these dreams real.




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