In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is recorded saying: “Out of the overflow of the heart, the fingers type.”
Well, not quite. He said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
But the message is clear: the things we communicate start deep within us and are reflections of who we really are. In modern currency, “speak” can be exchanged for “type” or “click” or “post” or “tweet.”
If this is true, then America’s online political discussions show that our hearts are remarkably dark places.
Idiot. Loon. Wacko. Blowhard. Nutjob. Scum. Moron. Lunatic. Fool. Jackass. Liar. Troll. These are the nicer things that online commenters say about their political opposites.
Even when we can’t agree on anything else, at least we share a lexicon of loathing.
Of all the problems America faces, this is one that politics cannot fix: how we treat our fellow humans.
No politician changes a good man into a louse. That good man has a choice about his words and behavior, and if he becomes an asshole because of politics, it reveals a shrunken heart.
Yes, your ass and heart are connected: the smaller your heart, the larger your sphincter.
Fear and the heart
The heart is shaped by forces much deeper than politics.
For example, fear is an excellent way to shrink a heart: fear of change; of difference; of loss of control; of trouble that might happen simply because we can imagine it happening. The fearful heart is prone to exaggeration and resistant to steady reason.
Thomas Jefferson noted this in an 1816 letter to John Adams:
“There are indeed gloomy and hypochondriac minds…disgusted with the present, and despairing of the future; always counting that the worst will happen, because it may happen. To these I say, How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!”
Lack of humility
Another heart-shrinking force is ego. Lack of humility keeps us from seeing the perspectives of others, opting to use our own perspectives as divisions instead of looking for overlap. This alone can destroy a nation.
George Washington wrote to every legislature after the disbanding of the revolutionary army in 1783:
“I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the state over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
“Brotherly affection and love for one another… to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind…. without [which] we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
A “pacific temper” refers to a peace-loving attitude, akin to pacifism, which Washington asked citizens to have for each other.
Where are these qualities to be found in American politics today? They are scarce. Whether politicians and their policies are destroying America is irrelevant, since our citizens are readily tearing each other down.
And yet, the full depths of our opposition have not yet been plumbed. This won’t happen until after the election, when one candidate will have won, and the other lost. Then we will see the final shadows of our hearts revealed.
Will the winners be conciliatory, or dance on their opponent’s political graves?
Will the losers be gracious, or retrench for more intense fighting?
In the final tally, the heart of the nation is the sum of our hearts. Are we making it larger or smaller? Come what may, will we check our hearts before we open our mouths? If not, then perhaps we have no one to blame for the nation’s decline but ourselves.
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