15 Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer Just Keep Learning Summary

Parker shares a wealth of wisdom when it comes to fulfilling our life purpose. We discussed how to improve education, how to achieve our dreams, and how to succeed as an author. He also shares some insights on how we can achieve social change by focusing on our internal personal development.

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Episode Notes

We have so many people on this show that are passionate about helping others. But, nobody can say they have more experience with serving people than Parker Palmer. One of his core beliefs is that everyone, no matter the industry, or position should think more and more like community organizers.

In this episode, we talked about privilege, educational challenges, mental health and living an undivided life. At 83 years old, Parker has a ton of wisdom to share with us about our own mortality and how to live our best life. We get into some challenging discussions on depression and the importance of finding a support system to lean on in tough times.

Parker is the author of ten books. Even though his big book writing career is winding down he still hosts an author page with a huge audience. His audience tunes in daily to read his short form stories, poetry and commentary. It’s clear that Parker knows how to bring people together to make life more enjoyable and impactful. 

One of the most interesting things that connects Parker to the Just Keep Learning audience is his lifelong passion for staying curious. He calls it staying “baffled” and it is the foundation of all of his writing and workshops. Instead of seeking conclusions, how can we seek more questions?

He has been a speaker, activist and retreat leader since he started his entrepreneurial journey. The leadership project named him one of the Top 30 Most Influential Leaders In Higher Education, based on his learning and teachings about social change.

Social Impact Starts Within

Parker explains how social impact really is an inside job. If we take care of ourselves first, then we will be able to help others. Reinforcing our own mindset and crafting and building our own values must come first. If we do this right, then naturally we will want to have an impact on others. We will be more motivated and capable of creating meaningful change in society. This is why it is not selfish to help yourself first.

Oftentimes we think of social justice and reform as massive acts of courage. But, Parker reminds us that change truthfully happens with small, regular, meaningful acts of bravery. One such example is getting better and better at being anti-racist. As two white males, a very important thing we can do is have conversations about things such as white supremacy and privilege.

Having conversations and dialogue about our differences should be the main goal. Instead of always arguing over who is right and wrong, we should do the difficult internal work to be accepting of others. To embrace diversity. Parker shares a great comparison between monoculture amongst humans and crops. It is vital that we strive to be diverse, instead of the same. But, without control over our own, internal pride and emotions we can’t begin to have this conversation.

Having studied societal leaders, he knows a great deal about people who choose to live a life of integrity and identity. Parker shares the term “undivided life” meaning you are fully focused on your mission. An example he gives of someone focused on their missions is Rosa Parks. Parker realized that people who learned to pursue their main focus have recalibrated punishment and threats. They have begun to realize that the risks and pain of not pursuing their calling are greater than the possible punishment of pursuing it.

Ways We Could Improve Education

Education is facing its biggest reform in the last one hundred years. As someone who is passionate about education, Parker has seen a lot of different things come and go in the industry. Here are a few great points he makes about what would be good to see in education today.

  1. The flipped classroom. Searching for knowledge and information seeking can be done on your own time. But, when able to have time together, focus on applying the learning in ways that require collaboration, individualization and feedback.
  2. Create more cloud based schools. How can we create learning opportunities that span beyond geography. The technology exists that we can have the absolute best teachers on a subject educating from anywhere in the world. By connecting students to experts they are most interested in learning from, you have a natural, intrinsic connection to commitment and engagement.
  3. Using apprenticeships, mentorships and internships as an increasingly valid way of teaching. They shouldn’t just be add ons to the things we learn. Instead, for those who learn well in this environment, we should use it as a primary educational tool.
  4. Understanding the difference between the mind and the brain. We all have a brain, but we all have very different minds. How can we as educators, parents and coaches learn to provide opportunities for all types of minds. Intelligence comes in many forms and for some reason we put an emphasis on being academically intelligent. In reality all of the other intelligences should be equally represented in our educational institutions.
  5. Collaborate instead of compete. People may be in denial. But, we are far better off at working together instead of alone. There is no denying that competition can be healthy. But, for the most part we should aim to work together. We should create partnerships and joint ventures based on abundance, as opposed to battling with a scarcity mindset.

Becoming A Writer

Being an author can seem like a tough industry to succeed in, but it doesn’t need to be. It is all about having perspective, a plan and being consistent. Parker has created ten books that served his audience over the last fifty years. When it comes to writing, there are three main things that he wanted to remind us about.

Don’t wait for any gatekeepers. There are tons of blogging and newsletter creation platforms. And you need not have a publisher, attorney, or marketer if you don’t want to. There is no barrier to getting started. Create a blog, newsletter, author page, portfolio, or even something like medium, or twitter and get writing! As you continue to write and share through short form, you will start to craft a framework for a larger book if that is an interest of yours. Don’t wait for some perfect time either. If you have a busy lifestyle, you can have a huge impact in just a couple of minutes per day.

If you do love writing, then give it away. When you are starting out, make sure your work is free. Don’t start out as a first-time writer waiting for a book deal, or trying out different ways to monetize your audience. The main goal is to have an impact on others. You want to understand your target audience, build a community and get feedback. The money will come if you are having an impact and building this community.

Build multiple streams of income. As you create your writing practice, you will have to find ways to make money beyond book sales. Being an author is a great way to network, or build an audience. But, for most writers, the writing itself is not enough to be your only revenue source. Find other ways to monetize. Such as speaking, guest posting, advertising, brand deals, sponsorships, memberships, or other products and services. 

A lack of certainty is what makes great creative writers. When it comes to crafting a story and deciding what to write about, focus on questions. We often give a lot of credit to writing about what we do know. But the more valuable, emotional, interesting conversations often come from questions. What really interests you? Write about the questions you have. As you dig deep into those questions you will develop more and more questions. Be increasingly baffled and curious. Keep going, and write about those exciting things that you do not know, but want to learn more about.

Memorable Quotes

All meaningful forms of social change are built upon a million million million small acts, and everyone we can take makes a difference.”

“We treat cognitive capacity as the highest form of intelligence. Artistic intelligence, relational intelligence, bodily intelligence, problem-solving intelligence. They aren’t honored in our school system. They ought to be.”

“I can’t imagine a sadder way to die than with the knowledge that I never really turned up in this world as my true self, that I was always hiding it out, that I refused ever to take the risk of bringing forward my truth.”

“​I believe that in order to write or teach well, you have to trust your not knowing, you have to trust your not knowing.

“I’m learning how to get old and I’m working on learning how to die. That’s not a morbid question for me. That’s a life-giving question. Death is part of life. And to live fully, you have to learn how to die as well. So it’s a creative, life-giving question for me.

A Note On Legacy From Parker

“I’m at an age where people have begun to ask me what I want my legacy to be. I always say, “It’s not my legacy—it’s ours.” It’s a shared legacy created by the folks who design and offer Courage & Renewal programs and the folks who participate in them.

As a writer, I’ve always wanted to “put wheels” on my ideas so people can make use of them. For the past twenty years, I’ve partnered with the Center for Courage & Renewal to do exactly that. Together we’ve created vehicles for people to ride those ideas toward life-giving destinations—inner as well as outer destinations. Our programs have allowed many people in many walks of life to develop visions and take actions that make our world a better place.

I’ve always believed that the Center’s success should be measured by its ability to attract competent, committed, caring people who are doing work that serves the human possibility. That’s exactly the kind of people we’ve attracted. So by my lights, we’ve succeeded!

And what about my writing? In my office, there are two bookcases with three shelves each. They are packed to the max with books I’ve written in various editions and translations; books for which I’ve written forewords or chapters; and periodicals for which I’ve written articles. That’s a lot of words! But for me, those words—sitting there inert on the page and shelf—are not the legacy.

A legacy is a living thing. What’s important to me is the way people have taken my words into their own lives in their own way—and then carried all of that into communities, institutions and the larger society. Without the deep, long-term partnership I’ve had with the Center for Courage & Renewal, none of that would have happened on the scale it has. I’m forever grateful for this gift of colleagues, friends and fellow travelers.

My personal legacy? I’d like it to be one of good humor, good will and generosity. I’d like it to be said that we had a lot of laughs, we extended a lot of kindness, and we built an abundant storehouse of heart-and-soul resources that anyone can draw on. I can’t imagine a better legacy than that.”

Guest Bio

Founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, Parker is a world-renowned writer, speaker, and activist. He focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. His main message has been that internal, mindset work can lead to better outward social impact.

A member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker), Palmer and his wife, Sharon Palmer, live in Madison, Wisconsin. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, as well as thirteen honorary doctorates. He is the author of ten books, including several award-winning titles, that have sold over 1.5 million copies and been translated into ten languages.

In 1998, the Leadership Project, a national survey of 10,000 educators, named Palmer one of the thirty “most influential senior leaders” in higher education and one of the ten key “agenda-setters” of the past decade. 

In 2011, the Utne Reader named him one of 25 Visionaries on its annual list of “People Who are Changing the World.” In 2017, he received the Shalem Institute’s Contemplative Voices Award, given annually to an individual “who has made significant contributions to contemplative understanding, living and leadership.”

FOLLOW Parker Palmer

Facebook – Parker P Facebook Page

Website – Center For Courage & Renewal

Twitter – @parkerjpalmer


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Author, DreamBig, Writing


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