Nathan Scolaro on Parker Palmer
When Parker Palmer’s first grandchild was born, he saw something in her that he says he missed in his own children some 25 years earlier.
Looking up at him with those bright, curious eyes, she was completely herself, an embodiment of wholeness, already embedded with her birthright knowledge of who she was, why she was here and how she would relate to others. “We may abandon that knowledge as the years go by,” Parker says. “But it never abandons us.”
So much of Parker’s teaching, writing and speaking over the decades has sought to understand and help people re-connect with this elusive, yet deeply powerful life-force that is the “self.” Each of us, he believes, has an inner teacher that guides us towards our purpose—that shows us the best use of our gifts. But the modern world has been good at silencing that teacher, asking us to instead focus on things such as climbing the corporate ladder, knowing every answer in a science exam and having perfectly-toned bodies. We end up living what he calls “divided lives,” far removed from the truth we hold within.
Parker’s learnings stem from his experiences. In his late twenties, on track to becoming a professor in sociology, he found himself deeply challenged by his ambitions and decided to move with his young family to a Quaker community that practised radical economic equality. They stayed there for more than a decade, but Parker’s internal battle with all the “oughts and should dos” of the world that shaped him saw him plummet into severe depression. Writing helped Parker make meaning of these difficult times and proved healing not only for him but for tens of thousands of readers around the world as well.
During his time in the Quaker community, Parker also came to see that while the inner world must be examined, keeping those reflections inside us can lead to narcissism, and so we need action and community as well as introspection and solitude in order for the “self” to thrive. It was this understanding that led him to establish the Center for Courage & Renewal, a non-profit organisation that runs workshops and retreats to help people find the clarity in community to lead more authentic and resilient lives.
At 76, Parker speaks with the gentle knowingness of a true elder. His joy for the world reverberates as deeply as his awareness of its capacity to cause pain. As we talk I am keenly aware of his message that when we acknowledge all the pieces that make us, even the broken ones, we will start to see our purpose in this world more clearly.