Program Particulars: Repossessing Virtue- Palmer

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to Web version of audio

(01:47) "Some are Guilty, While All are Responsible"

Krista quotes the Jewish rabbi, theologian, and mystic whose life and work we explored in our program "The Spiritual Audacity of Abraham Joshua Heschel." Heschel was commenting on the war in Vietnam when he wrote, "It became clear to me that in regard to cruelties committed in the name of a free society, some are guilty while all are responsible."

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(02:45–04:31) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale


Power and Powerlessness

In the face of seemingly utter powerlessness, Parker Palmer encourages us to look to great social movements and accessing "the power of the human heart."

(03:03) Becoming a Quaker in Midlife

A religious group of Christian derivation, the term Quakers is the common name for The Society of Friends. Although the term appears earlier, it took root when the movement's founder, George Fox, instructed a magistrate in Derby to "tremble at the word of the Lord." Fox believed that churches were abandoning their religious principles and that even reformation could not restore their faith.

Fox emphasized that the inner light takes precedence over external guidance. As such, followers relate directly to Christ without the intervention of clergy, liturgy, or traditional sacraments. Quakers believe meetings of two or more people can constitute a spiritual experience. Women are equal with men.

In an excerpt from his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes about his experience at the Quaker retreat center Pendle Hill.

The circles of trust I experienced at Pendle Hill are a rare form of community — one that supports rather than supplants the individual quest for integrity-that is rooted in two basic beliefs. First, we all have an inner teacher whose guidance is more reliable than anything we can get from a doctrine, ideology, collective belief system, institution, or leader. Second, we all need other people to invite, amplify, and help us discern the inner teacher's voice.

» Enlarge the image The front page of the New York Times from September 30, 2008, following the historic 777 point drop

The front page of the New York Times from September 30, 2008, following the historic 777 point drop.

(03:40) An Historic Drop for Dow Jones

Krista refers to The Dow Jones Industrial Average's drop of 777 points on September 29, 2008, the worst single-day point drop in its history. The drop occurred after the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass the first proposed $700 billion rescue for financial institutions. The New York Times reported:

"At 1:30 p.m. the House began to vote on the rescue package that Mr. Paulson and Congressional leaders negotiated over the weekend. About 10 minutes later, when it became clear that the legislation was in trouble, the stock market went into a free fall, with the Dow plunging about 400 points in five minutes."

(07:07) Reference to Palmer's Psychological Depression

Palmer was one of the voices who spoke about the spiritual side of depression for our program "The Soul in Depression." He experienced two crippling bouts of depression in his 40s. In his writing, he recalls a particular thought offered by his psychologist which he says eventually helped him reclaim his life. The therapist said, "Parker, you seem to look upon depression as the hand of an enemy trying to crush you. Do you think you could see it instead as the hand of a friend pressing you down onto ground on which it is safe to stand?"

In his interview with Krista, Parker Palmer, who was the leader of a Quaker spiritual community, describes the shame he felt during his depressions. He then says his depression forced him to reconsider the core of his understanding of spiritual life itself:

Parker Palmer: Going into my experience of depression, I thought of the spiritual life as sort of climbing a mountain until you got to this high, elevated point where you could touch the hand of God or, you know, see a vision of wholeness and beauty. The spiritual life at that time had nothing to do, as far as I was concerned, with going into the valley of the shadow of death. Even though that phrase is right there at the heart of my own spiritual tradition, that wasn't what it was about for me. So on one level, you think, 'This is the least spiritual thing I've ever done.' And the soul is absent, God is absent, faith is absent. All of the faculties that I depended on before I went into depression were now utterly useless. And yet, as I worked my way through that darkness, I sometimes became aware that way back there in the woods somewhere was this sort of primitive piece of animal life. I mean, just some kind of existential reality, some kind of core of being, of my own being, I don't know, maybe of the life force generally, and that was somehow holding out the hope of life to me. And so I now see the soul as that wild creature way back there in the woods that knows how to survive in very hard places, knows how to survive in places where the intellect doesn't, where the feelings don't, and where the will cannot.

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(11:30–13:28) Music Element

"Wearing The Blues" from En Nuestro Desafio, performed by Tristeza


(12:21) Reading From "Trusting Our Deeper Knowing"

Palmer wrote an essay titled "Trusting Our Deeper Knowing: On Cataclysms, Contemplation, and Circles of Trust" for the Center for Courage & Renewal's newsletter after hosting a retreat for people from the worlds of big business, financial services, and philanthropy. The retreat began on October 10, 2008, after a series of historic drops in the stock market and just one day after the Dow Jones had fallen nearly 40 percent below its record high, set only a year earlier.

At some level, most of us knew [the economic terrors that now engulf America] were coming. Who doesn't know that a society in which the rich get richer while the poor get poorer is a society that will someday have to pay the piper? Who doesn't know that when a relatively small fraction of the world's population uses its power to command and consume a disproportionately large fraction of the world's resources, the chickens will come home to roost? Who doesn't know that an economic system that encourages us to live beyond our means and refuses to regulate greed is one in which our avarice will come back to bite us? Who doesn't know that at every level of life, from personal to global to cosmic, what goes around comes around? The problem is not that we don't possess a capacity to know these things. If we didn't, we wouldn't have all the colloquialisms I just used! The problem is that the knowledge we need, like the seismic shifts that create eruptions, originates underground. It comes from a place within us deeper than our intellects, a place the poet William Stafford calls "a remote, important region in all who speak," a place sometimes called the inner teacher or the soul.

(14:38) Breakthrough Study on "Relational Trust"

Palmer cites a study of school reform called "Trust In Schools: a Core Resource for Improvement," conducted in the 1990s by Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider, two scholars at the University of Chicago. The study compared the average test scores of Chicago public schools to determine what factors were present in top-performing schools as opposed to bottom-performing schools.

One of the chief findings found that in schools with test scores in the top 25 percent, 75 percent of teachers said they had positive relationships with colleagues and nearly 100 percent reported positive relationships with principals. In the schools scoring in the bottom 25 percent, a majority of teachers reported little or no trust in fellow teachers and about two-thirds said the same of principals. Parker Palmer spoke about the study in his 2007 commencement address at the California Institute of Integral Studies:

Think for a moment about what happens in this society when a leader at a public school or any other institution says: "Folks, it's not about money, it's not about technology, it's not about curriculum or technique. It's about how much we trust each other." Such leaders often get marginalized, ridiculed, and labeled "touchy-feely." People scoff at them for trying to act on a secret hidden in plain sight: that what goes on in the human heart makes a big difference in how well the world works.

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(20:48–21:48) Music Element

"Ingots" from Legs to Make Us Longer, performed by Kaki King


(24:06) The Better Angels of Our Nature

Parker Palmer refers to the closing line from Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address in 1861. Lincoln delivered the address after the secession of seven southern states, just before the start of the Civil War. In his speech, Lincoln addressed the possibility of war, and, in the early drafts, he ended by posing a question for the South: "Shall it be peace or sword?" But his Secretary of State, William H. Seward, persuaded him to end the speech on a note of friendship.

"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

(24:44) The Human Spirit in Medical Education

Palmer cites a growing awareness in the field of medical education that doctors need to learn more than science in order to be effective healers. In our program, "Listening Generously", Rachel Naomi Remen described the medical school curriculum she created in 1993, called "The Healer's Art: Awakening the Heart of Medicine":

Rachel Naomi Remen: It is validating for students, the human agenda in illness. It reminds them that healing is a different relationship than a curing relationship. And it reminds them of their power to make a difference through their human response and connection to their patients. It basically reminds the students of the lineage of medicine. You know, I happen to see medicine as a spiritual path. That's my personal thing, that medicine is a spiritual path, which is characterized by compassion, harmlessness, service, reverence for life, courage and love. The basic qualities of the Hippocratic Oath are not scientific qualities. They are the qualities of human relationship, and they are spiritual qualities, very profound spiritual qualities. And we remind the students of the lineage, and this is young students, and we enable them to see that they belong to it exactly as they are, that they are already the right people to become physicians. All they need to do is learn the science and learn the facts, without allowing themselves to be changed by that process in any way.

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(25:45–28:08) Music Element

"Goby" from ...Until We Felt Red, performed by Kaki King


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(28:32–29:10) Music Element

"En Nuestro Desafio" from En Nuestro Desafio, performed by Tristeza


(32:26) Quaker Concept of Non-Violence

Palmer wrote about his relationship to the Quaker notion of non-violence in his essay "The Violence of Our Knowledge: On Higher Education and Peace Making":

"Violence is not just about bombing or shooting or hitting people. Violence is any way we have of violating the integrity of the other. Racism and sexism are violence. Derogatory labeling of any sort constitutes violence. Rendering other people invisible or irrelevant is an act of violence. So is manipulating people towards our ends as if they were objects that existed only to serve our purposes."

(41:16) "Be Not Afraid"

The phrase "be not afraid" appears more than a dozen times in the King James Bible, usually spoken by God in the Hebrew scriptures and by Jesus in the New Testament. Palmer wrote about the universal spiritual application of that phrase in his book The Courage to Teach:

Fear is so fundamental to the human condition that all the great spiritual traditions originate in an effort to overcome its effects on our lives. With different words, they all proclaim the same core message: "Be not afraid." Though the traditions vary widely in the ways they propose to take us beyond fear, all hold out the same hope: we can escape fear's paralysis and enter a state of grace where encounters with otherness will not threaten us but will enrich our work and our lives.

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(35:40–36:28) Music Element

"Times Are Changing" from Other Desert Cities, performed by Languis


(40:25) Leonard Cohen Lyrics

Parker Palmer qoutes several lines from the Leonard Cohen song "Anthem":

Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.

You can listen to "Anthem" on this program's playlist

(41:16) "Be Not Afraid"

The phrase "be not afraid" appears more than a dozen times in the King James Bible, usually spoken by God in the Hebrew scriptures and by Jesus in the New Testament. Parker Palmer wrote about the universal spiritual application of that phrase in his book The Courage to Teach.

Fear is so fundamental to the human condition that all the great spiritual traditions originate in an effort to overcome its effects on our lives. With different words, they all proclaim the same core message: "Be not afraid." Though the traditions vary widely in the ways they propose to take us beyond fear, all hold out the same hope: we can escape fear's paralysis and enter a state of grace where encounters with otherness will not threaten us but will enrich our work and our lives.

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(44:08–45:25) Music Element

"Anthem" from The Essential Leonard Cohen, performed by Leonard Cohen


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(49:48–50:52) Music Element

"Minor Repairs Necessary (Cliffs)" from RUB ME THE WRONG WAY, performed by Phillip Johnston


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(50:41–52:22) Music Element

"Anthem" from The Essential Leonard Cohen, performed by Leonard Cohen


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is the founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His most recent book is A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.