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The Heart Wasn't Meant to Think

The Heart Wasn't Meant to Think

by Christian Michael

December 16, 2013


All too often in today's society we make decisions with our heart. It seems a novel, loving thing to do: to think with our hearts. I mean, if we didn't, we'd be cold, hateful bigots who always look down on other people and think no one should help anyone else. Every dog for himself, right?

The brain is a logic machine, and the more we use it, the better it gets. When we stretch it, challenge it, force it to calculate several steps ahead and introduce risk of failure with decisions, our brain gets better at what it was meant to do: think.

Our hearts are a very important part of our lives as social creatures. Without the heart, emotional connectivity breaks up and remains rather meaningless. Society breaks down, culture is flat ... the heart makes life meaningful. The love of neighbors, friends and that special someone in our lives -- impossible without the heart.

But the heart is not a logic machine. In fact, the heart was never meant to think, and runs illogically a great deal of the time. When we follow it instead of following our head, we make some really terrible decisions. That teenage daughter who falls in love with and often gets pregnant from the "cool" but absolutely trustless "bad boy." The guy who gets into trouble because he's looking for validation.

The heart is a terrible logic machine. It runs off what feels good, and often leads us astray. And even outside of love, there is fear, concern, greed, avarice, rage ... things the heart embraces, often at the very worst of moments. Should we follow an illogical machine because it provides meaning but poorly shapes our pursuit of it?

The heart, for all its power, is a fickle fellow, and does not live in the real world. It lives in the world we design for it, imagines what life can be and laments sometimes what it has been, but the heart does not work in reality.

Our brains are the machines that allow us to connect to the real world. What we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and, most importantly, interpret, all comes through our brain. Using this machine for its intended purpose is how we make long-term decisions to the benefit of ourselves and those we love.

We look at the value added from our decisions, consequences, possible challenges and side effects from our actions. The heart does not. Its single-mindedness sometimes gets us into trouble so deep so quickly we don't even know we've done something wrong until the morning after, and there is not always a morning-after pill for some of the bad decisions we make in our lives.

It does not mean the heart has no value, or that it should be ignored. The heart has great value. But its value has very little to do with reality.

The heart is my motivation. My love for my spouse, my loyalty to a brother, my excitement over a personal achievement or hobby ... these come from the heart. They are the fuel to my ship, but fuel cannot be behind the wheel. My brain is my helmsman and my intelligent captain and crew that navigates the seas and shoals ahead.

When I want to make a decision, I must assess the heart to see if there is motivation to commit to an action, but I must then use my mind to think ahead and plan my steps. That reaches into every avenue of life.

When I want to marry a woman whom I love, I must calculate costs, timing, approach, communication ... That sounds cold to the infatuated, but if I make the terrible mistake of loving someone with emotion and making no real plans for the future, we'll both end up divorced and broke. Relationships take work, and I must think through my decisions, not merely "feel" through them. I can tell you from having listened to many older couples that it takes deliberate dedication and forethought to create the compromises that make relationships last.

If there is no thought, there is very little chance of success.

When I want to help the poor, the heartfelt thing seems to be to give them what we think they need and set up lots of bureaucratic programs to give them other people's money, too. That way, no one who is poor ever has to worry about food or shelter again. Seems like a nice thing to do, right? But reality doesn't jive with giving people everything they need and then expecting them to become productive members of society. And that doesn't single out people who are currently poor, that extends to every living human being. We should absolutely help the poor, but if you don't take logical account for human nature, laziness, mismanagement in fat bureaucracies, strawman abuses by politicians ... helping the poor requires personal engagement in the lives of those in need. That means thinking about what people need and then engaging them personally, both with your money and your heart. When people think you actually want to see them healed, not merely throw other people's money at them, you're more likely to get buy in. And if you intelligently assess how you should help someone, you'll avoid an entitlement mentality when those you're helping know you won't give them money if you think they'll abuse it for things they don't need.

If there is no thought, it will become what we have today, a very fat mess that refuses to change.

When I want to raise a child, the shallow thing seems to give a child whatever he or she wants and makes them temporarily happy. If I just feed and clothe them and give them what they ask for and let them do what they want, then they'll be good kids. But logic says giving kids everything they want is actually a really bad idea. To teach a child to appreciate what they have, to find contentment outside of possessions, to be giving when they don't want to be, selfless when others need it, to take care of business, be diligent and self disciplined with schoolwork and chores ... that takes deliberate logical assessment and education on your behalf. You can try to raise your child without actually having to think about it, and it's possible your child could turn out okay, but it's not likely.

Think with your brains. That's what they're there for. Blame nature or God or ancient aliens, there's a reason our brains and our hearts are divided. Now, before you make the argument that "technically emotions exist in the brain because the heart merely pumps blood," note that for millennia, nearly every culture has always divided the functions of the "emotional heart" and the mind. They don't have to know anatomy to know that there is a difference between the two, even if we've since discovered that they're co-located. And the parts of our brains that control logic and emotion are two different parts of the brain, and you can still use the wrong part to make logical (or illogical, rather) decisions.

So next time that hot guy at the bar shows interest, or you get so frustrated things turn red, or worry seems so overwhelming that you just have to follow it ... stop yourself and set emotions to the side. Consider the real factors involved with your decision. Sometimes your emotions will support logic, sometimes they won't, but whatever your heart says, use your head. Think through your actions. Consider consequences. Calculate the costs. And then, knowing the truth of the road ahead, walk it.

You might find your heart turning with your commitment to better decisions. It's certainly happened before.

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