Sunday, July 29, 2007

Words and Hearts—Hey, Where are Our Minds?

Words. Sounds. Syllables. Powerful things, they cajole us, they frighten us, they comfort us, they make us laugh, they make us smile, they make us cry.

They make us think.

Words are power, and the tone used to utter them adds to their might, to the imprint they leave inside our minds—or should that be our hearts?

Two words used by writers and journalists, and all those who write to indicate the same thing. Mind, heart…those two words both speak of the grey matter beneath our skulls. This mysterious bit of grey matter where the intellect resides. Where emotions and feelings reside.

Always, in all times, people in power have tried to separate what is in fact one. People in power, be it in churches or other temples, be it in palaces or parliaments, or White Houses, have tried, and tried again to tell us that our hearts and our minds weren’t in the same place.

And incidentally, those nice people in power have always warned us of the treachery of our minds. The heart is oh, so much more trustworthy. So much nobler. So much better.

The mind is a fishy thing, a thing that demands a minimum of focus, of work, of reflection. A minimum of effort, while emotions and feelings rise naturally in response to things happening around us, to things said around us.

Heart and mind are two faces of the same whole. Two complementary elements. Together they give us balance. They make us whole. Separate, they make us prey to either inhumanity, or to the honeyed words flung our way by authorities either secular or religious.

Authorities, politicians, priests like to appeal to our hearts. They do not want our minds to come into the equation, and it’s so easy for them to do so: we’re all lazy, and lazy means we don’t feel like making the effort to listen and to analyze what we’re being told. We prefer being lulled by the song of the words, by the musical tone of voices. We let ourselves drift in the music, and we simply go along with the flow.

And we are duped. Like small children who’d go anywhere so long as they’re being handed out candies.

And the irony in all this is, that there are still decent people in politics, decent people in religions, but we rarely heed them. We rarely support them…or we aren’t enough to do so. Because those people do not want to trick us, and as they want to convince us, as they want to truly have our support, they appeal to our minds. They tell us important things, facts, numbers and reports they want us to analyze with them. They give them to us, so we can focus on them, and draw our own conclusions, make our own decisions.

But not enough of us want to do that. Not enough of us want to think, and get headaches figuring out what is going on around u s, the mechanics of our world, and devise a way to make it better, or at least ponder and decide who’s most likely to try and herd the world along the best path open to us.

As it has come to France, it has been in the US for a long, long time: the thinking crime has been imprinted in a great many people’s minds. People are taught to be wary of their minds, to be wary of intellectuals, of politicians, leaders who use precise, complicated words. People are taught that those who appeal to their minds, who ask them to make an effort, to think and analyze, are in fact elite snobs who have nothing but contempt for them.

People are taught to feel and emote, and they are taught to shun thinking. People are taught obedience and submission. People are aught to bow down their heads and to go work, work and work, so that when they get back home they’re so tired they don’t want to do anything other than to drown in whatever brainless reality show that’s airing when they drop into their sofas.

And of course, this is all very logical. While you can control someone through a shrewd use of emotions and feelings, appealing to the mind is taking a risk. The risk of understanding. The risk of disagreement. The risk of opposition. The risk of rebellion. The risk of revolution.

And of course, all those who have an authoritarian streak do not want that. They do not want that at all. So they appeal to our hearts, they use simple words, they do not tell us the truth of what they want to do. Instead they tell us that they have children and dogs, they tell us they’re good people who go to church, they tell us their opponents are bad people who do no respect this or that. They do not refute the contents of what their opponents stand for, they have no need for that. They’re appealing to our feelings and emotions, not to our minds. They do not want us to understand, they do not want to convince us. They want us to react on instinct, on emotions and feelings their words trigger. They want us to separate from a part of ourselves. They want us to be unbalanced, and soft, easy to shape and manipulate.

And so often, we are all too happy to oblige. Because it’s so much easier. Because we’re tired, and because thinking requires embracing the bleakness of our situations and of our lives, because it requires gathering the strength to rise beyond initial despair to think further, to find a way to make things better.

Because it requires a strength that can only come from the combination of what makes us truly human: our hearts and our minds.

And we need this balance, we need our hearts. We need our minds. We need them, if we are to outgrow old reflexes, if we are to win free of the leashes we accepted for so long. If we are to go beyond the simplistic rejections some words provoke in us, like “liberal”, or “socialist” or “communist”. What do we know of the true meaning of those words? What do we know, beyond the mental images they call up, mental images created by the very people who do not want us to think, and who want us in their control?

We know nothing…unless we decide to use our brains, and think.

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