The Politics of the Broken Hearted

October 28, 2011 //

By Pia Infante

When I first read Parker Palmer’s description of “the politics of the broken hearted” in his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, my heart expanded and contracted in resonance. I have a patched together heart full of despair, resilience, and ferocious hope about the time and world we live in.

As I track the impact on the public imagination and consciousness of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I experience a similar sense of expansion and contraction. Stories from the streets have been inspiring (encampments have grown in over 1000 cities) and terrifying (Oakland police raiding a camp of 70 sleeping occupiers with 500 policemen).

I particularly appreciate the General Assemblies that are a core part of how “leaderless” decisions are being made. I also appreciate the quality of listening that is elevated by the common practice at the General Assemblies that the speaker and audience do a call and response where the speaker talks in short chunks that are immediately repeated by the whole group. It’s powerful. And interesting. And happening in many, many cities in our country and beyond.

I don’t mean, at all, to idealize this effort, which has seen critique on all sides of the fence. It’s un-contestable, though, that Occupy has sparked the interest and engagement of millions in a global conversation about the distribution of wealth in our time. It seems, too, that there are a million opportunities to engender the kinds of thoughtful, cross-perspective dialogue that TWI supports. I’ve no data on whether or not this is happening, but do shore up an immense hope and wish that it is.

I’ve been musing about the kinds of across the divide types of conversations that are likely occurring, however fruitful, on the streets and in all matter of venue. Rich Harwood recently blogged (and actually helped facilitate) about a dialogue between tea party members and Occupy organizers – with an intention to raise up the shared values and beliefs and possibly even solutions that could be located between the two grassroots movements. As with most dialogues between people who’s identifications often divide them, he suggests it starts with listening into commonality. We talk often at TWI about the conditions that scaffold difficult conversations. A short list includes:

  • Start with sharing story, before talking about issues.
  • Show up as a demonstration of your values, not your positions.
  • Build relationship.
  • Perhaps put aside known topics of difference, at least at first.
  • Listen. (cannot be overstated)
  • Lead with inquiry.
  • Be willing to listen, and, even more so, be willing to be changed by this relationship/experience.

Not an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can think of 10 more elements that would be required to truly succeed at dialoging across difference.

I’ve written before that this kind of conversation takes practice and so much willingness. With ferocious hope, I envision that in and about Occupy encampments and in all of the ways that we are participating in the greater conversation about our common welfare, that we take this moment in history as an opportunity to talk between silos and across divides – into the collaboration it will take to make real the promises of our democracy.


  1. Common Knowledge on November 29, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Hi John:

    I like and agree with your list. For people who cannot hold that many items in their head at once, you can also think about Angeles Arrien's Four Fold Way as a framework:

    1 – Be present (i.e. not distracted, fully aware/listening)
    2 – Pay attention to what has heart and meaning
    3 – Tell the truth without blame or judgment
    4 – Be open, not attached, to outcome

    With regards, Susan Clark, Common Knowledge

  2. The Whitman Institute on November 29, 2011 at 11:47 am


    Thank you for your comment, we appreciate your sharing Angeles' four fold way framework.