Thursday, October 11, 2012

Healing the Heart Three

One phrase, in the opening quotation by Terry Williams, captures a great deal of the problem of our political process these days:  Can we listen with our whole beings, and not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions?”  On the one hand, the political ads we are seeing appeal NOT to our minds, but to our emotions – especially the emotion of fear.   The information begin offered is questionable at best, and the graphics unfailingly mock the victim of the ad.  And so I hope for more mindful appeals – reasonable, factual, honest.   But Williams is saying that emotion too – the heart, in Palmer’s parlance – must be in play.   Mind and heart . . .

Having said that, I do think that most people’s “opinions” so freely offered and so seldom supported would do well to include honest, thoughtful analysis of the issues at hand.

A disturbing truth:  Not only does an appeal to the emotions almost always trump an appeal to intellect, but presenting facts that contradict deeply held beliefs is more likely to reinforce those beliefs than compel people to change them.   (p. 51)

This begins a fascinating section about how “the heart” – the non-rational part of us – is really the ruling part in so many circumstances.   Realtors will tell you that people buy homes largely because of emotional reasons.  They are not void of reasonable analysis of the purchase.  But in the end it is the heart that “simply loves it,” and the purchase goes through even if it may mean a financial stretch.

Palmer cites Alan Greenspan’s shock when financial leaders chose the way not of the good for all, but the good for themselves, or the perceived good, that is personal financial gain.  He had believed – as a disciple of Ayn Rand – that the free market would avoid such things as the collapse of 2008.  But reasonable people in charge of lots of people’s money, for a number of years made foolish and selfish decisions about that money.  Thus, their “heart” ruled over their minds.

The answer to our problem, says Palmer, is not a coldly intellectual, purely rational approach to issues – that would deny the reality that we are creatures of head AND heart – but an engagement of the whole person (mind and emotion, head and heart) in the challenges of the world. 

So Palmer invites us to find commonalty in our common heartbreak of these times.  Not that we are all heartbroken for the same reason – Tea-Party folk and progressives do not share the same cause for their broken hearts.  But the experience we have of heartbreak – disappointment, disillusionment, lost dreams, anger – is the same.  And perhaps in that agreement we can begin the long process of  mending our hearts and our society.

The last sections of the chapter make some excellent observations about how many of us deal with our “Heart Disease.”  Rather than “going within” to the real heart of the matter, we salve our souls with  “toxic consumerism,” while placing the blame for our pain on “the other” – by scapegoating.

1 comment:

  1. Ralph,

    Speaking of Ayn Rand (the quasi-official philosopher of the Republican Party, from what I’ve heard), I could be wrong, but my understanding is that she actually advocated rational egoism, or selfishness and disregard for the welfare of others. So why would a fan of hers, such as Alan Greenspan (or Republican Congressman and VP candidate Paul Ryan), even care about the economy and its effects on others? (Rational egoism is an amoral view, which would allow the most horrific cruelty or injustice, if you could get away with it.)

    Anyway, I believe that reason and careful critical thinking are indispensable to progress, but I readily admit that they may not be the most effective motivators. Parfit has several fascinating and soul searching (or at least mind bending, if not headache inducing) sections on the rational significance of disagreements, which you can read in the Google Books preview. Here’s a choice passage, which I tried to bring into the discussion:

    “When two people have conflicting desires, they cannot both get what they want. These people may oppose each other, and they may even fight. But fights may not involve any disagreement. For people to disagree, they must have conflicting beliefs.”
    --Section 100: “Normative Disagreements”

    Also see:

    Section 105: Disagreements