Protecting your Heart from Itself: A Response to “Let’s Talk?”

There is a real tension between talking and doing.  In the present election cycle, establishment politicians are the talkers, and who are the doers?  Well, Trump and his supporters, who are going to “make America great again.”  But notice that just as politicians have their reputation for not getting anything done, Trump and his supporters have their reputation for being unthoughtful and inarticulate.  You have to be one or the other, you can’t be a talker and a doer.

The Bible says that there is a time to gather stones and a time to scatter them.  There is obviously a time for talking and a time for doing.  Talking implies delayed action.  When action is needed, somebody needs to declare that the conversation is over.  On 9/11, Todd Beamer said to his fellow passengers “Let’s roll” before taking on the highjackers of Flight 93.

When people are in danger or pain, it is hard to argue that the conversation should continue.  Pain demands a response.  Pain demands action.  If my arms are full of groceries, and I suddenly feel an ant biting my ankle, then I’m dropping those groceries, milk and eggs be damned.  If I’m addicted to drugs, and my addiction generates extreme pain when I’m off the drug, then I’m taking the drug.

Conversation is an activity of the mind, while doing is an expression of the heart.  It is the heart that needs to be convinced by the mind, not vice-versa.  The default mode is to do, and to do immediately.  If the mind can make a compelling case that action should be put off, that more thought needs to be had, then patience can be achieved — for a while.  But if the heart has to wait too long it loses faith in the ability of the mind to deliver on its promises, and the heart will go it alone.  It can be tragic when this happens.

The saying is true that love is blind.  The heart might know what it wants, but it has no idea how to get it or to keep it.  The heart wants love and affection, but without the mind the pursuit of love and affection from another can become creepy.  It’s a turn off for the beloved.  The mind says wait, the heart says go.  The mind says settle down, the heart says reach out, demand, force.  The heart reveals its own desperation, its weakness, its vulnerability, its willingness to give up everything.  The heart is a self-destructive beggar.  The mind of the beloved asks: why give this beggar my heart?  What here is worth wanting?  The world is indifferent, it says, “that’s not how this works.”

All lasting love is led and informed by the mind.  This is why communication is so important in marriage as it is in politics.  In marriage, our hearts want love, but our mind says first be worthy of love, be virtuous.  This is frustrating, and tests the trust between the heart and the mind.  In politics, our hearts want happiness, but our mind says first have a successful marriage, have a great job, have dignity, have respect.  This is frustrating, and generates resentment after resentment as marriages fail, jobs are lost, and with them, dignity and self-respect.  It gives charge to the self-destructive beggars within us, with frustration giving way to recklessness, failure, and a nod towards death.

We need to protect our hearts and ourselves by being patient and open-minded.  There are ways–some clever, others straightforward–to satisfy our hearts and sooth our frustrations, but we can never make the best use of them if we close ourselves off from the wisdom of the world.  This is why talking matters, in marriage and in politics.  It takes us from quick and easy assumptions to a winning strategy that can go the distance.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Response to Ms. Ramirez’ “My Family Roles”

I love the topic of family roles for my blog because the family unit is such a fundamental element of society.  Outside of public institutions, the family is primarily where good neighbors, voters, and future parents are formed.  What came through in a conversation with Margarita after she posted “Family Roles” is that the clash between traditional and modern is really a clash over who knows best.  Modern culture suggests that we know what is best for ourselves as individuals.  Traditional culture suggests that what is best for everyone is revealed in the patterns of common experience.  So whereas Margarita’s experience is real and concrete, I just want to offer a couple of thoughts, viewing the issue somewhat more abstractly.

First of all, there should be no denying that older people are more experienced, that they have learned lessons we have yet to learn, and that the knowledge that age brings with it is invaluable.  Yet we often do deny it, and the main reason why is because we younger, more modern, generations believe that their knowledge is unimportant for several reasons.  We think much of their knowledge is circumstantial, and that what worked in the 1970s is not necessarily going to work in the 2010s, yet they push it on us anyways.  Their views are seen as prejudicial, rooted in an older worldview that is insufficiently appreciative of diversity, tolerance, and authenticity.  And they understand life itself incorrectly when they mock the necessary explorations and experimentations individuals must all personally engage in if they are to discover what truly makes them happy.

On the other hand, while these critiques certainly matter, it all comes back to the value of experience.  Yes, experience has to be properly interpreted, and there are quite enough of “old fools” out there to prove that age does not automatically bestow a crown of wisdom and virtue.  But the present also has to be properly interpreted, and there should be little argument that it is the here and now that is harder to understand correctly than is the past, if only because we have had less time to think about it.

The other overwhelmingly important consideration is that in the here and now, our passions rule.  Before the expression “love is love” became so popular, I used to hear “love is blind” far more often.  And there is a tension between the two sayings.  If love is blind, then sometimes love is headed in the right direction, and sometimes it is not.  If love is love, then the implication is either the neutral claim that love has no “right and wrong” to it, or the more optimistic view that love always moves us in the right direction.  Both of these seem off to me.

What our traditional culture is trying to do when it pushes its wisdom regarding love and relationships on us is to impart sight into a largely blind force.  It is to reject the often misleading thought that “love is love.”  It is to save us from our near-sighted, impassioned selves.  And, even if sometimes misguided, it makes sense why it is trying to do so.  It is itself an act of love, an expression of the hopes and sympathies felt by the older for the younger, and especially the good will, concern and protective instincts of parents for their children both young and old.