Tag Archives: Parker Palmer

The fine art of being snubbed: the one fact rule

Third lesson in the fine art of being snubbed (review lessons one and two here and here):

Remember the one fact rule.

The one fact rule is simple: behind most obnoxious behavior is one fact, which, if known, would place that behavior and the person (mis)behaving into context and make the whole thing a bit more palatable.

In the case of Parker Palmer’s “Student from Hell,” it was encountering that student more closely later on that provided the “one fact” he needed:

The young man lived with his father, who berated him daily for his foolishness: “The world is out to get people 97059like us, and college is part of the scam. Drop out, get a fast-food job, save whatever you can, and settle for it. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it’ll always be.

Daily this young man felt his motivation for college fading away. “Have you ever been in a situation like this?” he asked. “What do you think I should do about it?”

We talked until it was time for my plane to take off, and for a while afterward we corresponded. I do not know whether I helped him—but I know that he helped me. He helped me understand that the silent and seemingly sullen students in our classrooms are not brain-dead: they are full of fear.

The Student from Hell is not born that way but is created by conditions beyond his or her control. Yes, one or two of them may have been sent here directly by Satan to destroy Western civilization as we know and love it. But this particular student—whose plight represents many others—forced me into a deeper understanding of the student condition, one that is slowly transforming the way I teach.

I first encountered the statement in John Eldredge’s book Waking the Dead (another seminal read for me), and though it’s often attributed to Plato, evidently Ian Maclaren was the first to put it in writing:

Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone you meet is facing a battle.

Or at least that’s my paraphrase.

I also call it the one fact rule.

I don’t know what the one or multiple facts that provide context to the “GIT!” from the angry man. He was in church, yes, but he was in a wheelchair too. Did he see me dancing during worship and was that the issue – is dance in church itself offensive, or was my dancing offensively bad (too often a fair cop there!); if it was my dancing, was it received more as taunting than refreshing? Or was it something else altogether? Was it just the timing? Or is he just a bitter, angry man stuck in a chair and this really has nothing to do with me? If it’s the last scenario (or any of the others) the reality is churches should be havens for bitter, angry men and women, in or out of chairs.

I didn’t have the opportunity that morning to learn the “one fact” – when I next looked over across the room, he was gone.

Perhaps another time.

So what more was there to do but leave the snub, receive back the dove, and pray grace over whatever “one fact” remained concealed from my eyes, praying for the grace to be given that I myself so desperately need when it’s my turn to yell “GIT!” to a total stranger?

Like on my way home from work tonight…



Posted by on October 23, 2015 in haverings


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GIT! On the fine art of being snubbed…

I’ve been told this.
At many times and in various ways.

“I don’t care if I ever talk to you again!”
“Get out of here, you jerk!”
(That one was accompanied by a literal kick to the rear. I deserved it. Richly.)

Those are the most notable “gits” in my memory.
Uttered by people I had known and for reasons I fully grasped.
I really did deserve them!

Yesterday it was “Git!” with an angry thumb emphatically pointed behind. This time from a total stranger. In a sanctuary. For reasons unbeknownst to me. I thought they were words in jest at first, so I laughed.

Clearly, this didn’t help.

The repeated, “No, not ‘haha’, GIT!” left little doubt of that – even for me.

Since this was that brief “turn and greet someone” moment in church, I knew that wasn’t the time or place to plumb the whys, so I bowed and said, “Happily, sir” and then proceeded to embrace everyone around him.

First lesson in the fine art of being snubbed:

Take the hugs, leave the snubs.

Or, to put it another way, don’t get sucked into the black hole of “the Student from Hell.” Parker Palmer relates the tale of “the Student from Hell” in what has been for me a highly shaping read – The Courage to Teach:

I had just finished a two-day faculty workshop on a Midwestern university campus. Amid high praise for the 97059work we had done together—which, I was told, had given people deeper insight into the pedagogical arts—I was ushered into a political science class where I had agreed to be “teacher for an hour.”

I should have left while the leaving was good.

There were thirty students in that classroom. It is possible that twenty-nine of them were ready to learn, but I will never know. For in the back row, in the far corner, slouched the specter called the Student from Hell.

The Student from Hell is a universal archetype that can take male or female form; mine happened to be male. His cap was pulled down over his eyes so that I could not tell whether they were open or shut. His notebooks and writing instruments were nowhere to be seen. It was a fine spring day, but his jacket was buttoned tight, signifying readiness to bolt at any moment.

What I remember most vividly is his posture. Though he sat in one of those sadistic classroom chairs with a rigidly attached desk, he had achieved a position that I know to be anatomically impossible: despite the interposed desk, his body was parallel to the floor. Seeking desperately to find even one redeeming feature in the specter before me, I seized on the idea that he must practice the discipline of hatha yoga to be able to distort his body so completely.

At that point in my life, I had been teaching for twenty-five years. Yet faced with the Student from Hell, I committed the most basic mistake of the greenest neophyte: I became totally obsessed with him, and everyone else in the room disappeared from my screen.

For a long and anguished hour I aimed everything I had at this young man, trying desperately to awaken him from his dogmatic slumbers, but the harder I tried, the more he seemed to recede. Meanwhile, the other students became ciphers as my obsession with the Student from Hell made me oblivious to their needs. I learned that day what a black hole is: a place where the gravity is so intense that all traces of light disappear.

I first encountered this story nearly two decades ago, and it has been affixed to my soul ever since. Snubs can so easily – and quickly – work their way into our skin, turning us sour and sullen like King Ahab obsessed with the one piece of ground he can’t have. What an essential skill of life not to get sucked into the black hole of the snub, the rejection, the averted glance, the Facebook unfriending, or the mere lack of likes on our latest brilliant, witty, observant post.

We can be surrounded by multiple encounters with life and light, but we can’t see past the black hole of that snub.

Leave it.

You have better things to do…



Posted by on October 19, 2015 in haverings


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cuppa blue funk

Depression.cuppa_Marten post
Blue funk.
Black cloud.
Dark night of the soul.
Shadow self.

I always get nervous when people actually remember something that I said to them. I’m much happier when my comments are more like snow that falls and melts into the grounded being of someone’s life, doing what it needs to, and the source to be happily forgotten.

And it’s really good when such forgetting takes place when the advice sucks.

But here’s my friend Lisa’s recent post and its reminder, right as I’m reading Parker Palmer’s Heart of Democracy and the book it led me to beyond it’s pages, Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Shenk.

Much processing on depression and the “blue funk” going on in my head.

of course it's a depressing read!

of course it’s a depressing read!

We can fight depression so hard. Push it, shove it, cajole it, chase it away with a multitude of hired Davids strumming their happy and hopeful kinnor tunes. And often the harder we try, the more persistent and entrenched it seems to be – which was the source of my advice to Lisa. Stop trying to bounce it, invite it in (since it’s already there). Offer it a “cuppa” coffee or tea, and sit a spell with it. Listen to what it would say, ask where it came from, where it’s headed to next.

Eventually it will get bored and find its way back out the door.

It was a bit tongue in cheek to put it this way.

But hopefully you get the picture.

Welcome the darker shades you find popping within you or lurking in the background. Learn to embrace them, and then weave them into the rest of your life. The darker threads have a place in the tapestry being woven through our lives. At least, that’s what I told her. It’s what I’ve tried to do in dealing with my own frequently melancholy spirit these past three decades – particularly through the dips and plunges of cancer and chemo, both in myself and in others.

Palmer puts it this way, as he processes his own battles with heartbreak and depression and comments on Lincoln’s experience:

What was then called “melancholy” first appeared in Lincoln’s twenties, when neighbors occasionally took him in for fear he might take his own life. Lincoln struggled with this affliction until the day he died, a dark thread laced through a life driven by the conviction that he was born to render some sort of public service.

Lincoln’s need to preserve his life by embracing and integrating his own darkness and light made him uniquely qualified to help America preserve the Union. Because he knew dark and light intimately – knew them as inseparable elements of everything human – he refused to split North and South into “good guys” and “bad guys,” a split that might have taken us closer to the national version of suicide.

Lincoln has much to teach us about embracing political tension in a way that opens our hearts to each other, no matter how deep our differences. That way begins “in here” as we work on reconciling whatever divides us from ourselves – and then moves out with healing power into a world of many divides, drawing light out of darkness, community out of chaos, and life out of death.

So, big bad blue funk, how ‘bout a cuppa?


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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Books, Suffering


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shell shock

More from Parker Palmer’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy…and George Carlin:


take and read

take and read

The link between language and empathy was explored by the comedian and social critic George Carlin in his classic mini-history of the various ways we have named the postwar condition of some soldiers:

There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take anymore input. The nervous system has either…snapped or is about to snap.

In World War I, Carlin goes on, “that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.” By World War II, the name had morphed into “battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much.” Then came the Korean War, and the condition became operational exhaustion. “The humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase,” Carlin comments. “Sounds like something that might happen to your car.”
Then came Vietnam, and we all know what shell shock has been called ever since: post-traumatic stress disorder. Says Carlin,

Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon…. I’ll bet you if we’d still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time.

Carlin missed one precursor to shell shock, an important one in the context of this book. During the Civil War, traumatized combatants developed a condition that they called “soldier’s heart.” The violence that results in soldier’s heart shatters a person’s sense of self and community, and war is not the only setting in which violence is done.


Shell shock.
Battle fatigue.
Operational exhaustion.
Post-traumatic stress disorder.

And before it all, soldier’s heart.

Oh no.

War is most certainly not the only setting in which such violence is done.

shell shock

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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Books, Suffering


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two broken hearts

Parker Palmer. Healing the Heart of Democracy.

take and read

take and read

Oh yes.

Good read. Good grist for my mental mill. Good heart work.
Good Valentines Day post, I suppose.

Love his breakdown of the two basic kinds of heartbreak:

If you hold your knowledge of self and world wholeheartedly, your heart will at times get broken by loss, failure, defeat, betrayal, or death. What happens next in you and the world around you depends on how your heart breaks. If it breaks apart into a thousand pieces, the result may be anger, depression, and disengagement. If it breaks open into greater capacity to hold the complexities and contradictions of human experience, the result may be new life. The heart is what makes us human – and politics, which is the use of power to order our lives together, is a profoundly human enterprise. Politics in the hands of those whose hearts have been broken open, not apart, helps us hold our differences creatively and use our power courageously for the sake of a more equitable, just and compassionate world.

Broken apart.

Broken open.

The former is an “unresolved wound that keeps on wounding us and others.”

The latter results in a “greater capacity to hold our own and the world’s pain.” And “when we hold our suffering in a way that opens us to greater compassion, heartbreak becomes a source of healing, deepening our empathy for others who suffer and extending our ability to reach out to them.”

We all will encounter deep and profound heartbreak. That is a given in the human condition. It is the definition of being human. Consciously adding God to the mix doesn’t change that, no matter how much we say it will or wish it would.

We can’t choose whether we’ll be broken.

I suppose the question is, to what extent can we choose how we will be broken — open, or apart?




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Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Books, Suffering


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