ne of the wonderful experiences I’ve enjoyed in the years I’ve been in the United States is the lovely tradition of the Thanksgiving holiday. For a moment in time, before the commercial season gets into full swing, things slow down long enough for us to be aware of what we have to be thankful for. Some families have large reunions. Even if I’m just with Andrea and the girls for a long weekend when we have few other responsibilities, it’s a cozy, sweet time full of togetherness and awareness of what we have, because we are together.
And my heart grows full.
At times like this, when I’m aware of the blessings in my own life, I can’t help thinking of what the human heart is capable of in its truest form. As a leader, one of my favorite writers is Parker J. Palmer. A few years ago he wrote a book called Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. So much of our political conversation is unworthy of what we’re capable of. Perhaps gratefulness is just the starting place we need to turn things around.</P
Parker Palmer draws on a quote by writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams, who says “The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions: Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention, rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up, trusting our fellow citizens to join us in our determined pursuit—a living democracy?”
Palmer thinks Williams got things right and expands on her themes in his five “habits of the heart.”
- An understanding that we are all in this together. We depend on each other. We all have a place in shaping the life and culture and world we share.
- An appreciation of the value of “otherness.” I’ve come to appreciate that “otherness” and inclusiveness are at the heart of American values. It’s why I’ve felt so welcome in this country. When we disregard and abuse “otherness,” we lose something of ourselves.
- An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. In so many situations, not just one decision is the only possible right path. All of us understand the contradictions within our own lives, but we can hold them as true in ways that help us expand our perspectives and widen our understanding of other people as well as ourselves. Even leaders need to understand this.
- A sense of personal voice and agency. We all develop a sense of vision and direction, and leaders are expected to provide this for the organizations they lead. Yet it is always worthwhile to check that out with others along the way.
- A capacity to create community. Above all, in health care we are a community of change. At South Shore Mental Health we’ve declared our strategy as One Community, One Vision. Our organization is part of the wider community of health care structures, and our vision is for community health care improvements beyond just what we can do on our own.
Parker Palmer thinks Terry Tempest Williams has it right, and increasingly I agree with them both. This is what the human heart is capable of. This is why we are capable of aspiring for better conversation and better solutions. This is why we are capable of finding life in our interconnectedness, even when we are flawed. This is why we can gather at tables and give thanks with full hearts not only for what we have but for what we can be—together.
South Shore Mental Health