Casualties in the War Between Head and Heart

There are two types of moral blindness.

The first is blindness of the mind, where people assume that what is traditional, comfortable, and familiar to them — God, country, the values one grew up with, family, social respectability — provide a framework for one’s life that cannot be questioned.

The second is blindness of the heart, where people are dazzled by intellectual understanding and believe that all problems have one rational solution, which is their solution. They cling hard to their ideas and ideals and demand that everyone believe in them as much as they do.

People who are head-blind listen to their heart, but they live in a dreamy cocoon. Only their tribe, their neighborhood, their God, their country exists, and all beyond it is treated with indifference fading into contempt. They believe their comfortable assumptions and biases and never see the suffering people just beyond the hazy view of their blinkered, rose-colored glasses. The idea that they’ve ended up on the wrong side of an issue or need to adapt to a new situation deeply offends their foolish pride. They will take up arms against the foreign and try to wipe it out so that nothing disturbs their delusions.

People who are heart-blind see the real world in all its particulars, but don’t want real people living in it. They want human beings who work like computers and societies that work like machines. They don’t understand that people, including themselves, are an exasperating, unpredictable mix of logic and illogic, and that this is a very good thing. Society is always in a muddle, falling away from old ways of doing things and dimly groping toward new ones. We are a simmering stew of potentials, constantly evolving. People who can’t accept this situation try to force the unruly humans to do “what’s best for them”, and they can be mercilessly cruel when they do so.

You can’t force the status quo to continue, you will just keep making new enemies, driving away the young, and fading into extinction.

You can’t force new visions on people either, artificial rules that didn’t arise spontaneously from society are never fully accepted. The more you push society into some “rational” pattern, the more it rebels and subverts your plan.

What’s the answer? Buddhism says that we depend on both faculties, head and heart, to behave morally. The Buddha called these two moral senses “The Guardians of the World”. We need the clear light of reason and the warm intuition of our feelings working together. We need them to teach one another, discipline one another, before we will be able to find our way.

The head and the heart are not natural enemies. When they learn to work together they are much wiser and more creative than either is working alone. This unified creativity can give birth to visions that satisfy both head and heart, and rally people toward ways of being that are both comforting and clear-minded.

Without these two faculties working in harmony we can easily fall into great evil. Either type of blindness can harden the heart against vulnerable and suffering human beings. Moral blindness makes people invisible and thus expendable.

You can find moral blindness in the boys around the bar talking about “glassing” the middle east. You can find it in the intellectuals at the coffee shop angrily dismissing those who can’t see their brilliance as mouth-breathing morons who don’t deserve the benefit of their vision.

If we can make peace within our own souls, we may yet have a chance at peace on earth.

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