May 8, 2012

''Follow Your Heart,'' or ''Bad Advice Well-Intentioned People Give You''

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

Once again, it was the title that gave me the inspiration to write the actual article.

I am very, very annoyed at the saying that goes ''Follow your heart,'' or ''Listen to your heart.'' It seems like I could elaborate a lot on how this sentence does not make any sense.

What does it mean to follow one's heart, in the first place? What exactly is ''heart'' referring to? I am assuming it is used as a synonym for ''emotion'' or ''feeling'', two other very vague terms.

Those who read my blog regularly probably know that I like to have a definition for the concepts I talk about! 
Merriam-Webster gives interesting 4th and 5th definitions of heart, respectively "the emotional or moral as distinguished from the intellectual nature," and "one's innermost character, feelings, or inclinations."
I really like how one definition defines the heart as the "emotional distinguished from the intellectual nature." 

So I will go with that definition. (Yes, I do make subjective decisions at times, which is very ironic considering the topic of this article!)

There definitely seems to be a dichotomy between what the heart and what the head say. In other words, reason and emotions are often at odds.

Maybe that’s too much of an overstatement. Reason and emotions are sometimes in harmony; you may, for example, want to go on a vacation because you have worked hard and have diligently saved money over the past year. But reason and emotions are at odds when you go on a vacation just on a whim, while you are behind at work and already have a heavy debt and bills to pay.

I wonder why, in 21st century Western society, it is fashionable and encouraged to "follow one’s heart." Let us take a look at the message transmitted by popular culture.

Everyone knows Cascada’s  hit single "Listen to Your Heart." You can listen to the song here.

Here’s how the chorus goes:
Listen to your heart
When he’s calling for you
Listen to your heart
There’s nothing else you can do
I don’t know where you’re going
And I don’t know why
But listen to your heart
Before you tell him goodbye.

Let us analyze some of the lyrics for a second.

The song is called "Listen To Your Heart," so obviously that’s the key message. The song seems to be about some kind of romantic relationship. But really, the content of the song does not make any sense to me.

"I don’t know where you’re going / And I don’t know why."
(BTW, I will not analyze these lyrics in light of the context of the song, but more as general statements having to do with the Follow-Your-Heart philosophy.)

That’s very typical of a heart-centric worldview. We don’t know why our heart is inclined in one direction (Blaise Pascal: "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing"), and we don’t know where it goes… But we must follow it nonetheless? Doesn’t look like a wise plan.

Where does the notion that subjectivity > objectivity come from? It goes against the simplest logic.

Our friends, the Greeks, had a radically different worldview. In Ancient Greece, the pursuit of "reason" was a very popular occupation among philosophers. To this effect, the Greeks have developed the art of reasoning by establishing different types of argumentation dealing with the relationship between premises, inferences and conclusions, so as to "attain the truth".

René Descartes

Ice-cold reason and logic were also highly valued by some Enlightenment philosophers. René Descartes said, "The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once."

It seems to me that wisdom lies in holding fast to solid values and principles (which do not change), rather than trusting our feelings and emotions (ever-changing) for direction and guidance. A life entirely directed by "following one’s heart" can lead to many mistakes.

We can’t always indulge in what we want. We all love chocolate, but eating only chocolate every day would be a poor decision. 

In an ideal world, what we feel should be measured against what is right.

Following our heart is thus not a wise way to go about life.

The Book of Proverbs encourages us to seek the wisdom that comes from the knowledge of God and a relationship with him:


  1. You would quote Blaise Pascal!

    I like to think I use my head over my feelings, but recent events have proven that I could use a little more logic. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  2. So first I have to clear this up - eating chocolate every day would not be a poor decision. I am a prime example of that. My life and emotional stability is only enhanced with my chocolate consumption.
    Second, just wanted to say I love that you found that definiton of the heart. "The emotional distinguished from the intellectual." It's so true that that is what the heart is all about. I do completely agree with your article, but I do want to throw another side that I think is true too. Sometimes the mind can overtake the heart, knowing your heart is making you want something but you rationalize it away because you think your heart is deceiving you. I know that the heart sometimes is wicked but I think it also prods you to do good things. Emotions can be destructive, but without them, I really don't want to know where the world would be. There would be no passion, no being moved to tears to do something about the evil things in the world. It's not usually the mind that makes people change their lives, to take action - its the heart. For a person considering whether to follow Christ, I don't think I would advice them to gather all the evidence they can to see if it's true, I would first want to know if their heart has been touched by Jesus' message. And for me, my heart was the entire reason I decided to pursue the relationship with Tanner, because my mind was battling it the whole time. Does that make sense?

    1. It does! Thanks for balancing my views !!

  3. PS: The first comment was more of a joke... I know my heart is deteriorating :P


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