Parker J. Palmer: Wise Guy

Utne Reader visionary

| November-December 2011

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    Zina Saunders /

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Parker J. Palmer was chosen as an Utne Reader visionary in 2011. Each year Utne Reader puts forward its selection of world visionaries—people who don’t just concoct great ideas but also act on them.

Parker J. Palmer Online Extras | 2011 Visionaries Home Page 

Type Möbius strip into your favorite search engine and you’ll find images of a long, rectangular piece of paper that’s been given a half-twist and taped together to form a loop. The resulting surface has only one side and no end.

“I often talk about life on the Möbius strip,” says the 72-year-old public intellectual Parker J. Palmer. “That wonderful form that you can trace with your finger and find that what looks like the inside surface keeps merging seamlessly into the outside surface, and vice versa. So that the inner and outer are not two different things, but they’re constantly co-creating each other. That’s become a metaphor for me about the way life works.”

An accessible author with an empathetic heart and a philosopher’s head, Palmer is a modern-day wise man whose nine books, including the just-published Healing the Heart of Democracy, appreciate with each ruminative reading.

His best-known volumes, including Let Your Life Speak and The Courage to Teach, guide readers looking to express their personal passions professionally. He also examines social constructs and institutional limitations through a spiritual, but decidedly nondogmatic, lens. Taken in pieces or as a whole, the work rejuvenates and empowers because it encourages both solitary introspection and collective action.

“I write about the things I struggle with. I write about the things that baffle me,” he says. “My writing is an effort to peel back the next layer, so I can keep moving on.”

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