The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, February 18, 2008

Head or Heart?

Rory Asked:

“Riddle me this, old friend: in a presidential race, how do you weigh the candidate's stance on the issues versus the candidate's abilities?
Every election year I print out a list of stances on issues, remove the names, hilight the ones I agree with, count the results (this year the highest was 5 of 13, and that candidate won't make the primary)...
Where do you vote if the candidate you most respect and admire as a leader and a person disagrees with you on almost every issue?”

A)I’d look at my record. Let’s say that, in the past, when I admired a leader, he turned out to be worthy of my admiration even if we disagreed on issues. After all—you must have similar values, otherwise you wouldn’t admire them, (I assume.)

B) Let’s also say that you look at your track record voting for (or observing) those who agree with you on the issues. Do they turn out to be trustworthy? Do they keep to their promises? And…how did things turn out, anyway?

Let’s say that both A and B are true. The ones we admire turn out to be good leaders. And the one we admire less, but agree with, implement their promises, and the results are good. I vote for B.

Let’ say A is false and B is true. The ones I admire but disagree with, down the road, turn out to be jackasses or dreamers, but the ones who seem a bit lacking, but I agree with, tend to keep their promises, and the results are good. I vote for B.

Let’s say A is true and B is false. I tend to admire people who turn out to be decent leaders, even though I disagree with their policies. And the people whose policies I agree with (even though they seem lacking) either don’t keep their promises, or it doesn’t turn out well.

I go with A. Further, I begin to suspect that I am sporting damage that warps my reality map—that what I think is “good” isn’t at all, it is some kind of hidden agenda relating to fear or neediness, and that there are unscrupulous politicians who exploit this to get elected. In this scenario, head-versus-heart, heart wins. The person who seems most admirable turns out to be so, even if we disagree—I am flatly seeing the world wrong somehow, but can still trust my basic judgment of human beings.
But what if neither is true? What if people I think trustworthy turn out to be rogues, and people who espouse my own political positions are either liars, or, those positions once implemented suck big time?

Then I am in a state of real confusion. I can trust neither my head nor my heart. I would expect this to manifest in other areas of my life: bad relationships, a distorted body image, a sucky career. I have major work to do. I think I would retreat from the political arena until I got my shit together.

Does that help?

In essence, this is the question: should I trust my head or my heart? I’m asking you to look at your own track record. Which has been correct more often? Ideally, you look for those situations where head and heart agree. If they tend not to, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM, and some inner work is called for. More to the point, in Lifewriting, HEAD, HEART, and BODY must all agree to have maximum efficiency in your life.

It is so sad to watch people whose physical, mental, and emotional aspects head in different directions. They can be friggin’ BRILLIANT, and yet still fail in life. I’ve had some real doozy examples of this over the years…and quite recently. We’ll talk about this more, later, but one example that came up last year was a company with a VERY spiritual bent who called me in to consult with them. They had superb employees, a dynamite program, and a client list to die for. And were going broke. I listened to them for about an hour, and then asked a simple question:
“I bet you have a company manifesto, a set of rules and principles and goals for your enterprise. Probably written down, maybe graven in stone, and I bet you have it memorized.” They nodded emphatically.

I dropped the bomb: “I bet that nowhere in the top five goals is `we’re going to make a profit.’” They were dumbstruck. It had never occurred to them.

Why? Because deep inside, they consider money to be unspiritual. And the business had, in effect, been designed to prove this contention.

By hiding their dysfunction in the arena of “spirit” it was unassailable. You can’t question someone’s connection to God, can you? THAT’S why I don’t mess with that arena. Not that it doesn’t matter. It does, more than everything else, combined. But because you can’t measure it effectively.

So I look at the three “Mundane” arenas: body, career, relationship. Trust me, if there is a problem, it will show in one of these. And the “I’m spiritual” cop-out will ring loudly.

Now…let’s back away from that and look at Rory’s question again. When head and heart disagree, I’d go with heart, because the emotions tend to process a gigantic amount of data at light speed and present it as a kinesthetic flash. BUT…if your personal history says that your emotions are untrustworthy, trust your head and get help to heal your heart. If the reverse is true, trust your heart and study to increase your knowledge.

We want heads and hearts to agree. We want intellectual maps of the world that lead to love and light. We want healthy emotions that lead us to doing, instinctively, those things that intellect would have led us to if we had the time for our conscious minds to crunch the data.

And both should lead us to healthy bodies. Does the intellect lead you to neglect the body? Probably an emotional problem. Does the heart lead you to dilemmas that make you feel stupid…hmmm, another emotional problem.

In fact, when head and heart disagree, I think I’d assume that the problem lies in an emotional arena, and that we’ve concealed it from ourselves, and masked it over with hyper-intellectual b.s.

The world is filled with people who want to believe that they are driven by intellect, have no unconscious drives, and so on. They stumble through life making choices that any worm would avoid and when it doesn’t work, assume there’s something wrong with the world. No. The world is perfect.

And in fact, so are they. The trick is that they are doing exactly what our biology programs us to do: avoid pain and seek pleasure. So if you are badly hurt when you are too young to sort it all out intellectually, you end up with crossed emotional wiring, and avoid intimacy, or competition, or hope, or love, or success, and believe that these things are impossible to have.

And delete any data to the contrary.

In general, when I see people who are honorable, and good, and balanced, and have beliefs I disagree with, I assume that they are seeing the same mountain from a different direction. That I need to resolve the duality. Neither of us has to be wrong—we can be honorable adversaries, each an advocate for our own position, class, people, whatever.

But…if I see an honorable, successful, healthy person who has a set of beliefs I consider anathema…if my blood boils when I think about them…if I just can’t believe that a reasonable person could have such beliefs…then the problem is MINE. I have discovered an area where my head isn’t working right, where my intellect has a burned fuse and I’m covering up with certainty.

I guess what I’m saying is that, all things considered, I’d rather vote for someone I admire but disagree with than someone for whom I have distain but holds my values.

Frankly, if the people I admire disagree with me, it’s time for me to take another look at what I believe in.

Of course, it all depends on my history: have I, in general, been a better judge of people? Or of predicting future results based on my reality map?

Only you can say.

So…our question for today is: which do you trust, head or heart, and why?


LaVeda H. Mason said...


I'd have to say that I trust my heart, and then use my head as a 'check', in case there's some bad wiring that I'm not aware of.

Over the years, I've found that my heart has alerted me to problems, in the form of feelings that I needed to 'check something out', etc. When I've ignored those feelings, I've lived to regret it.

I've noticed the same thing in other people. Something tells them that a situation isn't right, but they don't have a 'logical' reason, so they ignore the warning, which turns out to be correct.

From where I sit, the heart tends to 'err on the side of caution', working to protect you from bad situations (and sometimes your own bad wiring).

Excellent point on this:
"But…if I see an honorable, successful, healthy person who has a set of beliefs I consider anathema…if my blood boils when I think about them…if I just can’t believe that a reasonable person could have such beliefs…then the problem is MINE. I have discovered an area where my head isn’t working right, where my intellect has a burned fuse and I’m covering up with certainty."

This is so true! But the real question is: Are you interested in finding out where the blown fuse is, or do you just want to 'be right'?

But, then again... my experience [personal and watching others] has been that the anger has its base in fear, and asking 'What are you afraid of?' can trigger some real mind-blowing answers... which is why some people lose their minds when you ask it.

I guess no one really likes to cut through their own BS. Our identity is bound up in it :). [Although, after you cut through it, a deeper, more interesting person emerges!]

Unknown said...

In the specific case of Presidential candidates, I go for issues over my sense of their character, because I have a method of researching their stands on issues that takes me to their actual records (legislative records in this case, easy to retrieve and get organizational ratings on, but gubernatorial records can be researched as well), while my sense of their character may be based on campaigning, which I think of as a less reliable source of information. It's not that character doesn't matter, but that someone's past record is usually a better guide to the future than what he or she is saying now, and until I've looked at that past, my sense of character may not be well informed.

In general, though, I think both head and heart matter, and which I allow to lead, and which I use more as a "check," depends on the kind of decision I'm making. If it's one which I don't think I'd be wired to process intuitively (when do I sell some stock options?), I'll lead with the head. If it's one where I trust my intuition more, I'll go with the heart.

Steven Barnes said...

":This is so true! But the real question is: Are you interested in finding out where the blown fuse is, or do you just want to 'be right'? "
I want to be right. Which means that I must see if I have any blown fuses, and correct them.

------- said...

Ah, both! You are so right... When I discuss this with others, I get the 'did we forget to take our medication?' look... One of the reasons that I don't discuss stuff like this with friends and family.

I think that it's ALWAYS better to fix the fuse, before assuming that the power is out!

Anonymous said...

I have gone both ways. If I like both candidates, but admire one more I will go with the issues, but if my heart tells me one of the candidates really doesn't measure up then I will ignore the issues.

Marty S

Frank said...

You need your head and your heart.

For instance: If Obama were to win the nomination (which is by no means guaranteed), my heart will be satisfied that no matter who wins, a good person will occupy the office of President in January of 2009.

I won't vote for Obama in 2008 for a whole host of reasons that would be too boring and contentious to enumerate.

However, I think that if he lost, the possibility exists that I would vote for him in the future.

It all depends on how the years season him, and how he seasons over the years.

Steven Barnes said...

Hey, Frank! I'm not sure I've seen your picture before. Nice to put a face to the "voice" Dude!

Anonymous said...

O damn the dichotomies!
I don't see how anyone can say
they can make a decision
that doesn't include attending to both
head and heart

unless of course
they toss a coin
or use some other random selector

how can you have an "intuitive feel"
heart about someone or something unless
you have some head knowledge about them/it?

Anonymous said...

-- "When I discuss this with others, I get the 'did we forget to take our medication?' look." --

That's a big reason I keep coming back here. Nobody looks at you funny if you "forgot to take your medication."

-- "if I see an honorable, successful, healthy person who has a set of beliefs I consider anathema…if my blood boils when I think about them…if I just can’t believe that a reasonable person could have such beliefs…then the problem is MINE. I have discovered an area where my head isn’t working right, where my intellect has a burned fuse and I’m covering up with certainty." --

Maybe. It never hurts to take a good look at oneself but people are complicated. It's also possible that the other person has some seriously faulty wiring.

Steven Barnes said...

I've never met a person balanced in all three arenas (which I'd need to consider them really successful) who had seriously flawed wiring. I'm sure they exist, but I haven't met 'em. I'd rather use meeting such a person as another reminder I might be hiding my flaws.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

I do like your 3 areas metric, but I do also think it's insufficient. I have known people in great shape, great home lives, healthy finances, but who had real problems. Specific case, I knew a guy with a successful business, great kids, good basketball player, wife who adored him -- everyone who worked for the guy despised him.

As to your specific question, head or heart, it's neither if I can possibly help it. I look for a baseline -- observation over time. There's a lawyer I know who spooked me when I met him -- seemed shifty, very "lawery" in almost everything he did, when I met him. But over the years I knew him, I saw him negotiate with people he liked and people he disliked, with people who had things he wanted and people who had nothing he wanted -- and he was universally honest, polite, considerate, up and down the power chain whether or not there was anything to gain from that person.

My gut on that guy was wrong. My pragmatic don't-trust-the-lawyers, which I think is based on observation and is more intellectual than emotional -- no lawyer has ever done me any particular harm, but I worked at one of the biggest law firms in the world when I was younger, on two separate occasions, and my belief that lawyers are proofessional scum is something that came from that experience of close-up observation -- my don't-trust-the-lawyers pragmatism was wrong where this guy was concerned, as well.

The best of us are capable of terrible acts, and the worst of us can be kind to cats. Be patient and pay attention. Beats heart or brain, in my experience.

Anonymous said...

I still don't buy into the whole success thing. Who gets to define success? If I consider myself successful does it really matter what anybody else thinks?

Marty S

Steven Barnes said...

Dan: you're right. Body, Mind, Emotions isn't the totality. Its the basic. Add as many metrics as you want BUT PUT THOSE THREE FIRST is my motto. The problem people seem to have is that they will add stuff, but neglect one of these.
Who gets to define success? You do, my friend! And define it in a way that challenges your current "limits" unless you are totally content. There are people who really do just sort of "zen" their ways through life. I know some of them. They don't need external goals...but then, they don't complain about their money, sex lives, or health, either. Be very very certain that you aren't "settling" for mediocrity because you are afraid to push for excellence. We are all so much more than we think we are. But ultimately, the only measure of success must be found in your own heart.

Rory said...

Not quite the question, Steve.
The question for me is a good leader who is going in the wrong direction versus a bad leader going in the right direction.
A bad leader in the right direction can do so much damage as to make people shun the direction for generations.
A truly extraordinary leader can take a society into great evil...
And both can masquerade as the other under certain circumstances.