Parker J. Palmer

Parker J.

American Author, Educator, and Activist, Founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage and Renewal

Author Quotes

It took me a long time to understand that although everyone needs to be loved, I cannot be the source of that gift to everyone who asks me for it. There are some relationships which I am capable of love and others in which I am not. To pretend otherwise, to put out promissory notes I am unable to honor, is to damage my own integrity and that of the person in need - all in the name of love.

No scientist knows the world merely by holding it at arm's length: if we ever managed to build the objectivist wall between the knower and the known, we could know nothing except the wall itself. Science requires an engagement with the world, a live encounter between the knower and the known. That encounter has moments of distance, but it would not be an encounter without moments of intimacy as well. Knowing of any sort is relational, animated by a desire to come into deeper community with what we know.

Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and the capacity to forgive.

The academic bias against subjectivity not only forces our students to write poorly (It is believed..., instead of, I believe...), it deforms their thinking about themselves and their world. In a single stroke, we delude our students into believing that bad prose turns opinions into facts and we alienate them from their own inner lives.

The kind of teaching that transforms people does not happen if the student?s inward teacher is ignored? we can speak to the teacher within our students only when we are on speaking terms with the teacher within ourselves.

The teachers who have had the most impact on me and on most learners I know are teachers whose "selfhoods" have been deeply invested in what they are doing.

Violence is what happens when we don't know what else to do with our suffering.

We do violence in politics when we demonize the opposition or ignore urgent human needs in favor of politically expedient decisions.

When Death Comes: When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn; when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; when death comes like the measle-pox; when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility, and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular, and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending, as all music does, toward silence, and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth. When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don't want to end up simply having visited the world.

Why does a literary scholar study the world of "fiction"? To show us that the facts can never be understood except in communion with the imagination.

It's more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.

Rightly understood, a myth is an effort to tell truths that cannot be told with mere facts or known by the senses and the mind alone, truths that take form only in that integrative place called the heart.

The ancient human question ?Who am l?? leads inevitably to the equally important question ?Whose am l??-for there is no selfhood outside of relationship.

The message of such silence is simple: we the people will no longer conspire in supporting the illusions that help corrupt leaders maintain control. By withholding our cheers and falling into silence, we take a small step toward withdrawing the consent that helps maintain abusive power. We no longer affirm, or pretend to affirm, that the national flags and religious symbols in which corrupt leaders wrap themselves have any meaning -- except as an implicit judgment on the duplicity of those leaders.

The twenty-five-year-old John Lewis and his age-mates in the Civil Rights movement were the descendants of generations of people who had suffered the worst America has to offer, but had not given up on the vision of freedom, justice, and equality that represents this country at its best. Those people nurtured that vision in their children and grandchildren at home, in the neighborhood, in classrooms, and especially in churches, creating a steady multigenerational stream of ?underground? activity that was largely invisible to white Americans until it rose up to claim our attention in the 1950s and 1960s.

Vocation at its deepest level is, 'This is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.?

We engage in creative tension-holding every day in every dimension of our lives, seeking and finding patches of common ground. We do it with our partners, our children, and our friends as we work to keep our relationships healthy and whole. We do it in the workplace ? as we come together to solve practical problems. We?ve been doing it for ages in every academic field form the humanities to the sciences.

When I forget my own inner multiplicity and my own long and continuing journey toward selfhood, my expectations of students become excessive and unreal. If I can remember the inner pluralism of my own soul and the slow pace of my own self-emergence, I will be better able to serve the pluralism among my students at the pace of their young lives.

Why should I ever be sad, knowing the aspens are always here dancing along this trail, slim as willowy girls, swinging their arms, tossing their hair, swaying their hips in rhythm with the mountain wind? Above the aspens, intensified sky, a dream of blue seen only as cities fade from view. Below them a rocky slope covered with clotted clumps of leaves and fallen, rotted branches, laying down a love bed where Indian Paintbrush and white violets grow amid a flourish of green. All of the tumbled boulders and rocks have found their angle of perfect repose, so why should I ever be sad? All of this waits for me when at last I stumble and fall, waits for me to join in this dance with all that turns and whirls?a dance done to the silent music of our dappled, singing, swaying world.

Leadership is a concept we often resist. It seems immodest, even self-aggrandizing, to think of ourselves as leaders. But if it is true that we are part of a community, then leadership is everyone's vocation, and it can be an evasion to insist that it is not. When we live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone follows and everyone leads.

On Sunday, March 7, 1965, six hundred nonviolent protesters, many of them young, gathered at the foot of Selma?s Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin a fifty-mile march to the Alabama State Capital in Montgomery, a protest against the ongoing exclusion of African Americans from the electoral process. When they reached the other side of the bridge, the marchers were brutalized by state and local police, mounted and on foot, with billy clubs and tear gas. This atrocity, witnessed on television by millions of Americans, scandalized the nation. It also generated enough political momentum in Congress that President Lyndon Johnson was able to sign a Voting Rights Act into law five months after the march.

Science requires an engagement with the world, a live encounter between the knower and the known.

The answer comes to me through studying the lives of the Rosa Parks and the Vaclav Havels and the Nelson Mandelas and the Dorothy Days of this world. These are people who have come to understand that no punishment that anybody could lay on us could possibly be worse than the punishment we lay on ourselves by conspiring in our own diminishment, by living a divided life, by failing to make that fundamental decision to act and speak on the outside in ways consonant with what we know to be true on the inside.

The more you know about another person's story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.

First Name
Parker J.
Last Name
Birth Date

American Author, Educator, and Activist, Founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage and Renewal