Creative tension-holding

If we want to “create a politics worthy of the human spirit,” we must find ways to bridge our differences, whether they are defined by age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology. Then we must seek patches of common ground on the issues we care most about. This is more than a feel-good exercise. If we cannot reach a rough consensus on what most of us want, we have no way to hold our elected officials accountable to the will of the people.

Every time we fail to bridge our differences, we succumb to the divide-and-conquer tactics so skillfully deployed by individuals and institutions whose objective is to take us out of the political equation. Questions: Why are billions of dollars spent annually on cable TV performances of political “infotainment” that are all heat and no light? On disseminating disinformation and agitprop online? On PACs that can produce and purchase air time for fact-free attack ads that offer no solutions? Answer: To make “We the People” so fearful and suspicious of each other that we will become even most divided and politically impotent.

Too many Americans have fallen for this systematic campaign of disempowerment. Without any evidence other than the screed they see on a TV screen or computer monitor, they’ve embraced the premise that holding the tension of our differences in a creative way – a way that opens our minds and hearts to each other, and to a rough consensus on the common good – is impossible or even undesirable. But they are wrong about that, and the proof is close at hand. 

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 – in nonprofits and business and industry – as we come together to solve practical problems. We’ve been doing it for ages in every academic field from the humanities to the sciences. If that were not so, knowledge would never have advanced, and scientists would still believe that earth, air, fire, and water are the elements of which everything is made!

From “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit” by Parker J. Palmer

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