I’m going to attempt to write this post without breaking out into song, but I can’t make any promises.
“Listen to your heart” (..when he’s calling for youuu – D.H.T.) is a widespread philosophy on how to approach life. It is accepted- nay, promoted- by Dove chocolates (my personal mini-therapists) and other commercial outlets as the answer to alleviating turmoil. Having a hard time making a decision? Your confidant is bound to coo, “Just follow your heart, sweetheart” (..let your heart, sweetheart, be your compass when you’re lost –Lady Antebellum). I mean, the fact that I can’t write this opening paragraph without singing some of my favorite tunes just goes to show how often this ideology is etched into our brains. I’m pretty sure people would look at you like you’re crazy if you ever said “Don’t follow your heart.”
Think of a time you followed your heart and it didn’t go so well. Honestly, it’s probably happened more than once. You can’t stop talking to the guy who repeatedly breaks your heart because you just know in your heart that you are meant to be together. Or perhaps you passionately decided to pursue a career that your heart loves, but it turns out that you’re miserable 80% of the time. We put so much emphasis on this feeling that we’ve forgotten to use our brains. Logic. Sense. Instincts, even.
Before I continue, let me throw in this side note: sometimes following your heart does work out. Maybe the love of your life finally comes around or you end up doing something really unique with your career. However, as a whole, following your heart can be a selfish gate that leads to dangerous, hurtful, and debilitating conclusions.
The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). You don’t have to be a Christian to understand why this is a valid statement. Our hearts have complicated, emotional, and irrational influences over decisions. Our brains are practical, controllable, and experienced. This is why we have both. Balancing the two can lead to beautiful and successful decisions. One without the other, however, is destined for disaster. In this case, I’m focusing on the risk of the heart without the brain, though the opposite can be just as detrimental. You see, the heart is all about selfishness- what makes you feel good. What makes you feel wanted. What makes you feel like you’re right. But sometimes what you feel isn’t the truth. Sometimes the truth is that you have to let someone go, you can’t get your worth from your job, and that the world isn’t meant to be full of self-indulgent individuals. Feelings serve a purpose, yes, but that purpose is not to be the sole leader of your actions.
I don’t know a single person over the age of 23 that has never looked back at a previous time in their lives and exclaimed, “What was I thinking??” Well, you weren’t thinking, as they say (and I’m not talking about wearing scrunchies or pants without pockets on the butt). But if you weren’t thinking, what were you doing? What led your actions? Your heart. How you felt. What you just knew was right. So how come we haven’t learned by mature adulthood that following your heart isn’t worth promoting? Why are there so many songs and motivational speakers and posters that say “Listen to Your Heart” when we all know full-well that that will lead to some really stupid choices? Come on, world, think about what you’re saying.
I don’t think it’d be so bad to listen to your heart if we didn’t live in such an internally-focused culture. Listening to your heart would be great if you listened to it when you feel guilty for trash talking someone or when you feel a tug at your heartstrings when seeing someone in need of help. But we have a different term for those situations- we call that “something on my heart.” It was “on my heart” to stand of up for the girl getting bullied. It was “on my heart” to call my grandmother. We only say “I listened to my heart” when it’s selfish and about making ourselves the center of feeling good. That is the primary difference- and that is why I don’t think that this particularly-worded ideology is something to honor.
Wanting to feel good is natural and necessary for preservation throughout life, so do not mistake my criticism as a Debbie-Downer mentality. Rather, I’m looking towards the long run. Often times what makes us happy in the moment is not what will satisfy us for the rest of our days. Closing the door on an unhealthy and emotionally-attached relationship will open the door for a healthy and contented relationship. Leaving behind the daily stressors that we justify for the sake of following our hearts allows for the daily joys of life to flood in.
So be wise, friends. Listen to your heart when it’s beating too hard at the gym or when your indigestion makes it clear to hold off on the Indian food for a while. But please don’t listen to it when making important decisions unless your brain has spoken its piece, as well.