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Head, or Heart?

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The Great American Think-Off in New York Mills, Minn., asked people to write on which is more important, the head or the heart. Contestants submitted essays on the subject, and finalists joined a debate. The winner of this year's think off, Joe Kaiser, argued in favor of the heart. We hear Joe sharing his essay.

The Heart, by Joe Kaiser

The heart should be trusted more than the head because it is the home of our conscience, our moral compass pointing us in the direction of right over wrong. The heart is our most reliable source of truth. When we listen to our hearts, we know which way to go.

The only problem is that it is often difficult to hear our hearts over the din that is coming from our heads. Our head is like a friend who loves to hear himself talk. In love with the sound of his own voice, he chatters on endlessly making the same points over and over. The heart is the home of our emotions while the head is the home of logic. And while emotions are pure feelings, raw without an agenda of their own, the logic used by the head is almost always in the service of an argument, an argument that serves our own self-interest. The head is our very own internal, partisan, think tank. It gathers, analyzes and ultimately spins data to suit its own purposes. Our head is involved in a constant game of political calculus, judging our relative status and power compared to those around us while the heart simply knows the truth. The head is the source of lies.

What's more is that even when the head is attempting to act altruistically, it is working with limited data. The head makes decisions based on hard data; tactile facts, figures and observations that can be weighed, analyzed and judged. Unfortunately there is more out there than the head is aware of. Our eyes, ears, mouth, nose and skin are extremely sensitive instruments. They pick up much more data than the logical head can process. The heart has an advantage. It has the ability to synthesize the information that the head misses. We say trust your gut, or listen to your heart. What we're acknowledging is that even when something doesn't "make sense," our heart knows the answer.

I used to volunteer at a rape crisis center. We referred to the clients we saw as survivors rather than victims. Each one of them had been in situations where the decisions they made could literally mean the difference between life and death. If they survived to be there talking to us, they had made the right decisions. Even so, they all too often second-guessed themselves, concerned that they over reacted, or that they hadn't reacted soon enough, that they had done something wrong. Betrayed, wounded and in real pain, their logical head attempted to think its way out of the suffering. In so doing, it only prolonged the healing by replaying every detail over and over, looking for a different outcome, someone to blame, and ultimately, the reason this had happened. Only when they could stop thinking and actually feel the pain in their hearts could they begin to heal.

To stop thinking and begin feeling the sorrows and joys of our hearts is no easy task. It is like trying to appreciate a beautiful flower with the TV blaring in the background. And the noise from this TV is filled with judgments based on insecurities and worries. The head is like a 500-channel media universe, filling the airwaves with a constant Babel of banality in a war against silence.

The heart craves silence. Truth is found in silence. When we turn down the volume of the head, we are able to notice beauty and feel peace.

I am a musician, a cellist. To make music, to create beauty, to evoke and channel emotion through this tool of wood, strings and horse hair is not an easy task. There are a thousand challenges to creating and maintaining sounds that faithfully represent the intentions of the composer while simultaneously stir something in your heart and the hearts of your listeners. Many hours are spent analyzing and overcoming these challenges, honing your craft, perfecting your technique. The head does well in taking on these challenges. And yet, music can only be made when our head is turned off and the heart is turned on. Many a student has been told, "Don't over think it,""you're trying too hard,""relax, let it flow." What they're really being told is, "Trust your heart." As with music, as with art and as with the art of living, don't over think it. Trust your heart.


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