Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More
“How do you govern a country with two thousand different cheeses?” —Charles De Gaulle
“Iron hand in a velvet glove.” —Attributed to Charles V by Carlyle
“There is a homely adage which runs “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.”” —Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt
“A great artist needs a heart on fire and a head of ice.” —Friedrich (Wilhelm) Nietzsche
“…to be like pure white silk and a very sharp iron.” —Shunryu Suzuki, not always so
Most of these quotes only make sense in the context of political leaders describing what it takes to effectively govern a country. Each paired quality equally applies not only to governing well and true service, but also to the essence of effective healing, fine judgment and genuine contribution. These viewpoints may appear contradictory, yet they are both true, and thus paradoxical. Given a country of the most robust individualists, even beyond the United States, Charles de Gaulle knew there was no way for anyone to truly govern France and expressed this with tongue-in-cheek humor. It would appear that de Gaulle knew he did not know and simply threw up his arms in wry chagrin.
The quote attributed to Charles V, 16th century King of Spain, is equally true yet provides a contrasting perspective. Spain’s Charles V wisely judged that it took both an iron hand of fierce, authentic power, equally matched with a velvet glove of flexible, soft persuasion, in order to create successful governance. Updating the above quote, you could say for productive leadership in any field, and particularly in all healing, it takes “a steel backbone wrapped in warm tissue.” Any therapist worth their salt brings both great stealth in telling the straight up truth and tremendous depths of human compassion. How else could they be respected and revered on the one side, and kindly loved on the other? This is akin to American Southern belles who have sass, moxie and backbone to be called “steel magnolias.” United States President Teddy Roosevelt knew the power of gentle persuasion and the promise to take actions when other means to resolve issues failed.
In over three decades of full-time clinical private practice it is remarkably predictable that when people first enter therapy they have exhausted using their logical, reasonable heads to address an emotional, relational heart issue. One could liken this common situation to the absurdity of undergoing surgery by going through the brain to address a leaky heart valve. I do not recommend it! While you may explore many matters through head knowledge, and much may be quite relevant and accurate, it is still only an intellectual understanding that makes little if any difference on the level of the heart, transforming unworkable behavior patterns, and yielding outcomes that are real and sustaining. As one professor colorfully put it, doing such misdirected actions would be like shoving beans up your nose to gain nutrition it does not work, nor would it ever!
Bring the heart’s love without the head’s reason, and you’re a warm jellyfish few would seriously follow given no backbeat in reason and realities in the world. Bring the head’s reason without the heart’s love, and you’re a cold calculating computer with loads of facts and data, yet no one cares given you have built no human emotional connection.
So where does going through the head to deal with a heart issue get you? Usually such approaches begin and end in massive frustration, inner conflict, greater confusion and knowing everything intellectually and knowing nothing that is practically useful. Many people rationalize that they will get over the heart matter with time. If the issue is a core one, not once have I seen anyone “get over it” with time. Actually, it is usually quite the opposite. Over time, the wound deepens and essentially forces the person to take the heart issue more deeply to heart, since the heart will not be denied! Similarly, and far less commonly, is to let the heart rule the roost in commanding the head. Typically this results in unwise decisions, distress in relationships, highs and lows, unending drama, along with impractical behavior. Whether you allow the head to rule the heart or the heart to rule the head, neither approach offers much that is workable, appealing or recommended.
What would a balance of head and heart be, feel, and look like? Social observer G. K. Chesterton described the balance this way: “He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” Know that both the head and the heart have their contributions to make and that each hugely influences the other and your life. A remarkably simple rule of thumb is let head issues be addressed on the level of the head and let heart issues be addressed on the level of the heart. How would this play out?
When we’re in pain, misery and suffering, almost without exception a heart issue is powerfully knocking on our psyche’s door to be faced and addressed through deep listening, aware presence. and heartfelt empathy and compassion. The ego-mind’s thoughts, beliefs, roles, identifications and stories usually play a key role in further aggravating and solidifying the less than functional behavior patterns. Helping the head, that is the ego-mind, get out of the way by returning to being present and witnessing the mind is immensely helpful.
Head issues related to false ideas, beliefs, roles and identities, whether illusions or delusions, are best identified, deconstructed and released. Most times coming back to solid ground or terre firma takes the form of seeing, accepting and adaptively working with reality or “what is.” Learning, modeling, rehearsing and living new skills, abilities, strategies and structures can be most helpful in designing a constructive life. Building and installing strong internal resources is at the heart of empowerment and being your own authority in life. No one less than Sigmund Freud wisely recommended, “In the small matters trust the mind, in the large ones the heart.” Is there an effective therapist on the planet who would disagree?
A lovely story is told by Shakyamuni Buddha that illustrates the interdependent balance of life. He compares faith to a blind giant and wisdom to a keen-eyed cripple. Faith as the blind giant encounters wisdom as the keen-eyed cripple and says, “I am very strong, but I can’t see; you are very weak, but you have sharp eyes. Come and ride on my shoulders. Together we will go far.” It is the balance between faith and wisdom, the heart and the head, which Buddha supported. Neither blind faith nor pseudo wisdom would do.
Our big “I” True Nature oversees our small “I” ego in a bonded alignment and balance of standing inside and speaking the hard truth united with emotionally bonding with a sincere heart. Purely by offering responsible accountability coupled with openhearted good will can you earn and sustain mutual respect. The love of a “heart on fire” is balanced with the truth of a “head of ice.” Authentic power can only be held and expressed when both qualities are in plentiful evidence.
To be an effective transformational agent it is essential to bring both the head and the heart—the sword of hard truth, realities and consequences along with the lily of non-judgmental acceptance, brotherhood and love. A receptive mind matches an open heart. A steel-trap mind and a bleeding heart miss the mark of an open, receptive mind and a warm, pure heart.
Underneath all defenses, games and personas of the ego-mind, our deep selves want to know the straight truth, and let’s wrap it in compassionate communication with a human being “being human.” Credibility is built upon the foundational cement of straight truth and unvarnished reality conjoining the structural posts of emotionally honest resonance and support. Our cathedral only stands so long as both qualities are present.
This rare alignment of liberated heads and radiant hearts commands true respect, evokes depthless love, deeply bonds one to another, and creates an aware space of Being. A brilliant balance of the head’s intelligent wisdom and the heart’s feeling faith is the essence of all true healing, governing, service, judgment and contribution. An open, liberated head abiding in Truth and wisdom, and a pure, radiant heart exuding and freely giving Love in absolute surrender to everything and everyone moment by moment, is fully realizing and ever more embodying the real gift of our True Nature.