THE CENTER FOR THIRD AGE LEADERSHIP NEWSLETTER – NOVEMBER 2016
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
3. HOW AMERICAN POLITICS WENT INSANE
4. “WHAT YOU WANT” OR “WHAT YOU NEED”?
5. LEONARD COHEN’S SINGS ‘ANTHEM’ IN LONDON 2008
6. THIS MONTH’S LINKS
QUOTES OF THE MONTH – LEONARD COHEN & THE YOUNG MAN
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.
“I do think it may be helpful to define what is “light.” It seems many people believe Trump’s presidency will falter and this will allow the “liberal/progressive” light to come back in. But the real issue is whether people will be able to see light, even if it is a different light than that which they expect. I mean, isn’t that, a different light, not the same light but a new light, what we’d expect to come out of an Unforming?
…This takes us to the notion of the provisional nature of human knowledge and keeping one’s eyes and minds open for new ideas and new light, even if it is coming from Pluto or, maybe, Trump Tower.”
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
November Greetings, Dear Friends…
In both our family and and our country this last month has been a time of great adversity, and it seems its challenges will continue far the foreseeable future. In this darkness I want to share some rays of light that are coming through the cracks. First is by friend and mentor David “Lucky” Goff, and his experience resonates deeply with my own and many others. Lucky’s piece helps me feel both the truth of where we are and offers hope for where it might allow us to go.
The second is by Maria Popova as she channels Parker Palmer via his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy. She and Parker also help me understand and accept where we are and where we might be able to go from here.
And third are some thoughts about the differences between “WHAT WE WANT” and “WHAT WE NEED” from The Young Man, my lifelong friend, student and teacher.
I hope the pieces in this newsletter will help you see both life’s cracks and the new light coming to and through us all…
Much love, FW
BY DAVID “LUCKY” GOFF, NOVEMBER 25, 2016
The last few weeks have shaken me. I’ve been toppled, disillusioned, experienced increased uncertainty, and had many of my friends express fear and anxiety. It’s been hard to hold onto myself. I’m having to reach deep within to regain my balance. I’m discovering that doing so, is one of the hidden benefits of this time. In some way all of the fear and tumult are causing me to go inside and discover more of who I am. Instead of just reacting, I find a response forming.
Social psychologists have been looking at adversity for some time now. They have discovered through their research, what I’ve known experientially through my stroke, that adversity can bring out an adaptive, better response. As they say, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” They’ve come up with a term I recognized immediately— post-traumatic growth. They have explained some of what I have experienced. Both my experience and their insights are helping me find a more creative way of responding to what I experience going on right now.
To me, this is a time of great challenge and opportunity. It is too easy to just be afraid. Instead, this is a moment that asks for depth, creativity, and the will to learn. We are poised before the abyss. Our response will say more about us, than it will ever say about Trump, or any of his henchmen. Uncertainty gathers around these questions. How could bad leadership lead to a stronger union? How could the fear of demise result in the discovery of fresh strengths? How can our planet benefit from our choices?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions yet. But I do have a sense, from my own time of deep uncertainty, that when I was really hopeless, and utterly helpless, I became more malleable and available, and then new awareness and life came. I became more because I endured being made less. I am still less, and I am still more. Adversity asked something of me, I would have never asked of myself. Today, despite the suffering, I’m glad it did. And, this experience gives me a way to look at this moment, and consider the possibility, that if we can find a way to respond that isn’t just a rehashed version of past reactions — the nation can be made better.
I’m considering that possibility. It’s casting new light on all of the reactions I am experiencing. I don’t know what’s happening, but I’m looking at the tumult of the times with a whole lot more curiosity, expectancy (as in, a baby is due), compassion, and wonder.
The ancient Chinese had a curse that went, “May you live in interesting times.” We do. It is important to know those same ancient Chinese, who were responsible for the ying/yang symbol, knew about paradox, and also knew, that the curse was also a blessing. Interesting times give us a chance we didn’t have before. I personally am glad to be alive now, because I know my choices mean so much more. What is being asked of me now, makes my life so much more meaningful than I would have imagined. Life, through this unexpected and unwanted turn, has enlivened me.
Copyright 2016 by David ‘Lucky’ Goff
3. HEALING THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY
BY MARIA POPOVA, BRAINPICKINGS, NOVEMBER 23, 2016
Parker Palmer on Holding the Tension of Our Differences in a Creative Way
“America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without,” Walt Whitman wrote in his timeless meditation on democracy. A century and a half later, as we find ourself amid the terrifying testing ground of Whitman’s wisdom, we would do well to remember that whatever redemptions democracy may have must also come from within, not without. Leonard Cohen captured this brilliantly in his unpublished verses about democracy, which produced one of his most beloved and beautiful lyric lines: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
How to harness the redemptive light that comes through the fissures of democracy is what educator, activist, and poet laureate of the human spirit Parker Palmer (b. February 28, 1939) explores in Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (public library) — a book originally published years ago, the timelessness and timeliness of which is being proven daily.
Art by Oliver Jeffers from The Heart and the Bottle
In a sentiment that calls to mind Leonard Cohen’s wonderful insistence that “a
revelation in the heart” is the only force that moves minds toward mutual
understanding, Palmer considers the deeper rationale for his title:
“Heart” comes from the Latin cor and points not merely to our emotions but to the
core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge —
intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and
bodily, among others. The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds
with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more
fully human. Cor is also the Latin root from which we get the word courage. When all
that we understand of self and world comes together in the center place called the
heart, we are more likely to find the courage to act humanely on what we know.
The politics of our time is the “politics of the brokenhearted” — an expression that
will not be found in the analytical vocabulary of political science or in the strategic
rhetoric of political organizing. Instead, it is an expression for the language of human
wholeness. There are some human experiences that only the heart can comprehend
and only heart-talk can convey. Among them are certain aspects of politics, by which
I mean the essential and eternal human effort to craft the common life on which we
all depend. This is the politics that Lincoln practiced as he led from a heart broken
open to the whole of what it means to be human — simultaneously meeting the
harsh demands of political reality and nurturing the seeds of new life.
Framing his central inquiry into “holding the tension of our differences in a creative
way,” Palmer — who has lived through some of the past century’s most tumultuous
and polarizing periods, from WWII to the Civil Rights movement to the plight of
marriage equality — writes:
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…
Human beings have a well-demonstrated capacity to hold the tension of differences
in ways that lead to creative outcomes and advances. It is not an impossible dream
to believe we can apply that capacity to politics. In fact, our capacity for creative
tension-holding is what made the American experiment possible in the first place…
America’s founders — despite the bigotry that limited their conception of who “We
The People” were — had the genius to establish the first form of government in
which differences, conflict, and tension were understood not as the enemies of a
good social order but as the engines of a better social order.
A large part of that capacity for holding differences creatively, Palmer argues, comes down to all of us — “We The People,” in our dizzying diversity — learning to tell our
own stories and listen to each other’s. (Lest we forget, Ursula K. Le Guin put it best
in contemplating the magic of real human communication: “Words are events, they
do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy
back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth
and amplify it.”) Palmer himself awakened to the power of this simple, enormously
difficult act of mutual transformation when he took part in the annual three-day
Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage from Birmingham to Selma, led by
Congressman John Lewis. Palmer encapsulates the story of one of humanity’s greatest moral leaders:
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.
John Lewis leads peaceful marchers across Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama, 1965.
Leading that historic march was 25-year-old John Lewis, one of the first to be brutalized by police, his skull fractured and his body scarred to this day. Echoing Rebecca Solnit’s increasingly timely insistence that the most hope-giving movements of social change often begin in the shadows and the margins, Palmer writes:
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.
John Lewis (front, right) being beaten by police, Selma, Alabama, 1965.
Decades later, on the bus to the airport after the endpoint of that commemorative
Civil Rights Pilgrimage, Palmer found himself seated behind 71-year-old Lewis — a
“healer of the heart of democracy,” by then recipient of the Presidential Medal of
Freedom — and overheard him telling a remarkable true story that stands as a
powerful moral parable:
In 1961, [Lewis] and a friend were at a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina,
when several young white men attacked and beat them bloody with baseball bats.
Lewis and his friend “did not fight back, and they declined to press charges.” They
simply treated their wounds and went on with their Civil Rights work.
In 2009, forty-eight years after this event, a white man about John Lewis’s age
walked into his office on Capitol Hill, accompanied by his middle-aged son. “Mr.
Lewis,” he said, “my name is Elwin Wilson. I’m one of the men who beat you in that
bus station back in 1961. I want to atone for the terrible thing I did, so I’ve come to
seek your forgiveness. Will you forgive me?” Lewis said, “I forgave him, we
embraced, he and his son and I wept, and then we talked.”
As Lewis came to the end of this remarkable and moving story, he leaned back in
his seat on the bus. He gazed out the window for a while as we passed through a
coutnryside that was once a killing ground for the Ku Klux Klan, of which Elwin
Wilson had been a member. Then, in a very soft voice — as if speaking to himself
about the story he had just told and all of the memories that must have been
moving in him — Lewis said, “People can change… People can change…”
Palmer reflects on the enormous legacy of Lewis’s moral leadership:
During the three days of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I was reminded time and again
of the themes that are key to this book: the centrality of the “habits of the heart”
that we develop in the local venues of our lives; the patience it takes to stay
engaged in small, often invisible ways with the American experiment in democracy;
the importance of faithfully holding the tension between what is and what might be, and creating the kind of tension that might arouse “the better angels of our nature.”
Palmer returns to the central premise that the act of listening to each other’s stories
is our only vehicle to common ground, however small the patch. With an eye to his
notion of “the politics of the brokenhearted” — a term particularly apt today — he
Hearing each other’s stories, which are often stories of heartbreak, can create an
unexpected bond [between those with opposing political views]. When two people
discover that parallel experiences led them to contrary conclusions, they are more
likely to hold their differences respectfully, knowing that they have experienced
similar forms of grief. The more you know about another person’s story, the less
possible it is to see that person as your enemy.
With an eye to what is often referred to as “politics of rage” — topics of especially
charged polarity — he adds:
Rage is simply one of the masks that heartbreak wears. When we share the sources
of our pain with each other instead of hurling our convictions like rocks at “enemies,”
we heave a chance to open our hearts and connect across some of our greatest
In a sentiment of particular poignancy and resonance today, Palmer writes:
We do violence in politics when we demonize the opposition or ignore urgent
human needs in favor of politically expedient decisions.
The democratic experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the
explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart’s alchemy that
can turn suffering into community, conflict into the energy of creativity, and tension
into an opening toward the common good. We can help keep the experiment alive by
repairing and maintaining democracy’s neglected infrastructure… the invisible
dynamics of the human heart and the visible venues of our lives in which those
dynamics are formed.
It is well known and widely bemoaned that we have neglected our physical
infrastructure — the roads, water supplies, and power grids on which our daily lives
depend. Even more dangerous is our neglect of democracy’s infrastructure, and yet
it is barely noticed and rarely discussed. The heart’s dynamics and the ways in which
they are shaped lack the drama and the “visuals” to make the evening news, and
restoring them is slow and daunting work. Now is the time to notice, and now is the
time for the restoration to begin.
For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive … the heart is where everything begins: 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.
Half a century after Eleanor Roosevelt made her eloquent case for the power of personal conviction and our individual responsibility in social change, Palmer adds:
Full engagement in the movement called democracy requires no less of us than full engagement in the living of our own lives. We carry the past with us, so we must understand its legacy of deep darkness as well as strong light. We can see the future only in imagination, so we must continue to dream of freedom, peace, and justice for everyone. Meanwhile, we live in the present moment, with its tedium and terror, its fears and hopes, its incomprehensible losses and its transcendent joys. It is a moment in which it often feels as if nothing we do will make a difference, and yet so much depends on us.
Healing the Heart of Democracy remains an indispensable read, immensely emboldening at this particular moment in time. Complement it with Palmer on the elusive art of inner wholeness, education as a form of spirituality, and his magnificent Naropa University commencement address about the six pillars of the wholehearted life, then revisit Mencken on reclaiming the spirit of democracy from the conformity that passes for it.
Copyright 2016 by Maria Popova
4. “WHAT YOU WANT” OR “WHAT YOU NEED”?
BY THE YOUNG MAN, NOVEMBER 30, 2016
I do think it may be helpful to define what is “light.” It seems many people believe Trump’s presidency will falter and this will allow the “liberal/progressive” light to come back in. But the real issue is whether people will be able to see light, even if it is a different light than that which they expect. I mean, isn’t that, a different light, not the same light but a new light, what we’d expect to come out of an Unforming? That, of course, was a rhetorical question.
I have a friend, Bob S., and we had lunch six-eight months ago. Bob feels, very strongly, the democrats are nearly as bereft of new ideas, and new perspectives, as the republicans. Bob is certainly right, the only question is one of degree. This takes us back, I think, to endnote 1 of my essay contained in the CTAL April newsletter* and the notion of the provisional nature of human knowledge and keeping one’s eyes and minds open for new ideas and new light, even if it is coming from Pluto or, maybe, Trump Tower.
With regard to it coming from Trump, he has to negotiate a different pivot based on the Bob Dylan lyric I quoted in the April newsletter essay:
An’ I say, “Aw come on now You must know about my debutante” An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need But I know what you want.” (Emphasis added)
Back in April, I believed Trump was going to speak the language of what the voters emotionally “wanted” while Hillary was going to speak the language of what the voters rationally “needed.” In fact, that’s what Trump did and it’s probably a big reason he won the general election against Hillary. But now, to succeed as president, Trump must see the applicability of the other side of Dylan’s lyric and come to terms with what the country truly needs. Then, he must be able to sell that to the country. This will be an extremely difficult and tall order. My hunch is, as we chatted about over the phone recently, Trump will have to come-up with his own version of FDR’s Fireside Chats. And here’s a hint, it can’t be on Twitter.
And while we are making reference to FDR, let’s try to remember a few things. First, FDR had to be convinced by his advisers to engage in progressively more deficit spending; he came into office as a firm believer in a balanced budget. Second, FDR made mistakes, like in 1937, when he prematurely became overly concerned about inflation and, therefore, cut-back on deficit spending. It was only after this proved to be a huge mistake that FDR fully embraced Keynesian economics and the need for greater deficit spending in a deep recession or a depression. Whether this country will allow Trump the same privileges to fail, as it has granted other presidents, is a critical question for this critical time in our nation’s history.
Copyright 2016 by The Young Man
*FW recommends you read The Young Man’s April Essay in its entirety now, after the election, to see just how prescient The Young Man was very early on. Now, also available, is The Young Man’s answer to the homework assignment contained in the April Essay.
The birds they sang at the break of day Start again I heard them say Don't dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be. Ah the wars they will be fought again The holy dove She will be caught again bought and sold and bought again the dove is never free. Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in. We asked for signs the signs were sent: the birth betrayed the marriage spent Yeah the widowhood of every government signs for all to see. I can't run no more with that lawless crowd while the killers in high places say their prayers out loud. But they've summoned, they've summoned up a thundercloud and they're going to hear from me. Ring the bells that still can ring … You can add up the parts but you won't have the sum You can strike up the march, there is no drum Every heart, every heart to love will come but like a refugee. Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in. Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in. That's how the light gets in. That's how the light gets in.
6. THIS MONTH’S LINKS:
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