from An Interview with Parker J Palmer, PhD

So at the bedside of a dying person, we learn neither to invade nor evade what’s going on, but simply to hold it in our attention. When we’re able to be present to another person in that way, I believe we are communicating—without words—some kind of confidence that the person we’re with has whatever it takes to make this part of the human journey in their own time, in their own way, and with their own inner resources. Looking back, I’m convinced that that’s what the friend who massaged my feet communicated to me, that he had a certain confidence in me that I didn’t have in myself. And because he was not afraid of me, I could slowly start being less afraid of myself.

[…]

Lincoln was the president who didn’t try to demonise either side. He was firm, decisive, and a true leader, but he did not engage in the demonisation and the blame game that is so toxic in American politics today. One reason for this is that he had long experience of saying to himself, “I am my own darkness as well as my light. I am all of the above.” He knew better than to assign all the darkness to one side of the way and all the light to the other. So he didn’t’ have any trouble saying, “This union that we treasure is one of darkness and of light. What we have here is not a perfect union, but a nation that’s always in search of wholeness,” because that’s the way he had to live his own life in order to survive and thrive.
I really can’t think of another president from the long list of American presidents who could have done what Lincoln did as a reconciler during the Civil War. His capacity for reconciliation externally came from his lifelong practice of inner reconciliation. I’d be willing to bet that anyone you identify as a public reconciler of darkness and light is someone who has deep and long experience of that same kind of reconciliation inwardly. You just can’t do it outwardly if you haven’t been there inwardly.


Simon, T. (n.d.). Welcome to the Human Race. In Darkness Before Dawn: Redefining the Journey through Depression (pp. 85-97). Sounds True; Reissue edition.

Note: If you’d like to read the whole interview, please drop me a comment!

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