What is "Heart"?
Our heart yearns for harmonious and loving relationships. To create such relationships requires learning to let go of selfishness, focusing on what is best for our partner, observing the proper standards of relationship, and living up to our commitments. Through loving others, we find our true self.
Heart is the irresistible impulse to find joy through loving and being loved (why we live). Joy is the purpose of life (what we live for). Love is the way heart can reach its goal (how we live). Ethical norms guide the focus of our love (for whom we live).
The ancient Chinese philosopher, Mencius, regarded the center of morality as the heart of concern for others:
What is the foundation of natural human feelings for others? - The heart that sympathizes with pain. What is the foundation of a commitment to righteousness? - The heart that is repelled by vice. What is the foundation of respect for social and religious forms? - The heart that is willing to defer. And what is the foundation for a liberal education? - The heart that can tell true from false. People have these four foundations like they have four limbs. (Mencius II.A.6)
Mencius gave the example of a child who is about to fall into a well. A passerby cannot help but be moved by anxiety over the child's safety and rush to the rescue, whether or not the child is a relative. This is because we have the kind of heart that feels pain when they see another person suffering or in danger.
Heart is Our Center
We are using heart in a particular sense here, meaning the center of our being, our point of equilibrium, and our chief executive:
- The center means the core. The life with heart first implies a life with deep internal content, as opposed to a superficial life. Heart is the core of our personality. It is the place within us that animates our identity and shapes our awareness of who we are. Our experience is not limited to what we are thinking (our intellect), feeling (our emotion), or doing (our will). Heart is the holistic force that integrates our intellectual and emotional landscape. Deeper than emotion, intellect or will, heart is the most profound motivation for all human endeavor. When impulses for material things overwhelm the core desires of our heart, we act irresponsibly and unjustly. We close off the depths of our heart, experience confusion, and eventually despair.
- The center refers to the midpoint (as in geometry) or the point of equilibrium (as in physics). The center of a circle is equidistant from each point on the perimeter. In the circular movement around an axis, an object finds balance between centripetal and centrifugal forces. The life with heart means a balanced life. We strive for a well-rounded personality and a spherical existence, without being driven in extreme directions. The mature heart has a sense of equidistance and of equilibrium. The noble ideals of right thinking, right feeling, and right action can be achieved through the life of heart.
- The center is the decisional and responsible agent. Heart represents the chief executive officer within our life. The heart finds joy in being with others, working together, eating together, and sharing life's experiences. However, if we do not act responsibly, we cannot create harmonious relationships with those around us. Therefore, leadership should be exercised by those who show the deepest and the most balanced heart. Heroic leaders such as Abraham Lincoln in the United States, Winston Churchill in the United Kingdom, Charles de Gaulle in France, and Nelson Mandela in South Africa are admired for embodying such a heart. They tried to think, feel and act as teachers, parents, and leaders for their nations.