*Afterthought #55 – Listening Across Lines

Parker Palmer

Alongside reading wisdom from early Quakers in A Language for the Inward Landscape by Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, Jr., I recently listened to the wise words of a contemporary Quaker, Parker Palmer. An educator, author, and activist, Parker participated in a conference call organized by Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) on the subject of talking across ideological lines. The call was recorded, and you can listen to it at this link: http://fcnl.org/events/call_with_parker_j_palmer/.

I’m distressed by the polarization in our country and feel at a loss about how to engage in meaningful civil discourse. Parker’s opening comments about his orientation to talking across ideological lines heartened me, and throughout the call he succinctly described some strategies. Here are a couple that especially spoke to me:

  • Drawing on David Whyte’s poem “Start Close In”, search for someone you perceive is within reach and with whom you have a relationship. Begin with sincere questions to learn that person’s story.
  • Stand and act in the “tragic gap.” The gap will never close, but act out of faithfulness, rather than concern for effectiveness.

In the coming days and weeks, I’m open to opportunities to “start close in,” listening to stories of those with differing ideas. I believe Parker’s closing assessment: “No matter who wins this election, civil discourse will be needed more than ever.” Now is the time to become more skillful at bridging ideological divides.

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.


  1. Thanks, Gretchen. And amen to Parker Palmer, right? Listening – sincerely and attentively, without thinking of how I’ll respond and without an agenda to change the other person’s mind – is one of the most powerful and heart-opening tools I know of. Yet, in our culture, and especially at this time, it’s almost a revolutionary act. Parker’s words (among those of other wise folks) give me courage to engage.

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