Recently, my daughters and I were at a friend’s house where a television was on (we don’t get TV reception in our home). The girls, instantly mesmerized by the idiot box, stared at whatever dribble was showing. But since my kids have been raised without that questionable medium, they are much more critical of what they see on the screen.
Since it was shortly before Christmas, everything – from advertisements to previews of upcoming shows to the program itself – was Christmas themed. The overall message the TV station attempted to convey was holiday warmth and mushiness mixed with commercialism. “Follow your heart!” gushed an announcer’s voice.
At once both my girls started making gagging noises. “I hate that term!” exclaimed my oldest, who just turned 15. “It’s because people follow their hearts that they have so many problems!”
Out of the mouth of babes. I realized my sensible teen had nailed it.
I will now embark on a series of mangled metaphors that will make any physician nauseous, but bear with me.
It recent years, feelings – classically described as originating from the heart – have become gods. It’s gotten to the point where how you feel supersedes rational thought. These feelings – following your heart – are not always the best guide for proper action and behavior.
When you think about it, how many times has following your heart gotten you into trouble? Your heart might say this is a great guy to marry (he’s handsome, sexy and buys you roses) but your head knows he’s risky (he’s been married four times, had an affair while you were dating and can’t keep a job).
Your heart might fall for your brother’s latest plea for a loan – after all, isn’t he family? – but your head knows darned good and well he’s going to fritter the money away and ask for another loan next month.
See my point? Simply put, the heart is seldom a good judge of what should be done.
In the last 40 years, feelings have become supreme. We used to be guided by sensible documents such as the Bible and the Constitution. Now those sources are deemed too pitiless, too much at odds with the warm gushy feelings that rule society. Today we take our guidance from People magazine and Oprah.
And look where it’s gotten us. Rather than having the intelligence to wait until marriage, women pop out babies left and right and expect society to support them. Rather than having the intelligence to date someone for a long time to determine whether that person is a suitable marriage partner, people hop in the sack on the first date and then wonder why their lives lack meaningful relationships. Rather than having the intelligence to take the keys away from Grandpa, family members don’t want to admit that he shouldn’t be driving anymore.
The trouble is, of course, it’s so much easier to follow one’s heart rather than one’s head. Your heart may say it would be fun to major in underwater basket-weaving in college; but your head says accounting or engineering may be a better choice. Which is easier? The former. Which is more likely to result in a job? The latter. How boring.
It all comes down to thinking about the future. The immediacy of the moment may be nice, but what are the long-term consequences? This issue – consequences – can be examined for nearly every aspect of one’s life. Educational options. Dating partners. Having children. Career moves. Church attendance. Home purchases.
This is where the elders in our society are shaking their heads at the folly of youth. They’ve already experienced or witnessed the long-term consequences of choices, both theirs and others’. Perhaps they have regrets that they didn’t choose more wisely when they were younger. Or perhaps they are filled with pride that their wise choices yielded excellent results. Either way, it’s worth listening to their words of wisdom. And I’ll betcha most of the elders would say, “Whatever you do, don’t listen to your heart when it comes to making critical decisions.” Following your “heart” can lead to great disappointment.
Now, don’t get me wrong; you cannot operate purely by “head” without being unbalanced in life. (Think Spock.) A little heart has to be mixed in too, for a healthy and human approach to life. But my problem is I see far too many people exclusively following their heart without realizing how much trouble it can get them into.
So what to do when your internal organs conflict with each other?
The early Chinese felt the spleen was the central organ in charge of life-sustaining postnatal energy, directing the critical flow of nutrients to keep the body functioning. So in this absurd metaphor of organ function, I’ve decided to assign a new responsibility to the spleen: issuing common sense. Common sense, you see, is an intelligent balance between head and heart.
Following your spleen – applying common sense – allows you to examine the conflicting messages from both heart and head. It means you can walk away from the handsome but questionable boyfriend. It means you can arrange for your brother to get some professional help instead of giving him more money to enable his problem. It means you have a long and compassionate talk with Grandpa but refuse to return the car keys.
Following your spleen means your decisions are based on long-term consequences, not the immediacy of the moment. What will give you more peace of mind 30 years down the road – aborting your baby, or adopting him out to a loving couple? What will ultimately bring peace to your home – maxing out yet another credit card, or buckling down and living on beans and rice until you get your debts paid off? What will be best for your children – having a covert affair with that fascinating coworker, or working to improve your marriage so you’re not tempted to stray from your wedding vows?
Three cheers for the spleen, that metaphorical source of common sense. This year, let’s make a resolution to listen to it when making life’s decisions, shall we? When all else fails, follow your spleen.