Interpreting the conversation between your head and your heart is often a futile task. At least in the moment. They often seem to speak different languages in order to plan covert operations. But don’t be fooled, while they may often be at cross purposes, these two aspects of your character are in cahoots. Any obfuscation they employ is done so with the bigger picture in mind. They each know that the other is powerful and know that for you to remain somewhat sane they have to stay in this pitched battle, each taking victories and losses in turn in order to retain any balance.
As a matter of course this means that if need be they will fight dirty. They will employ chemicals in puberty. They will engage your superego in adulthood. They will provide fuel for the id to motivate behavior. With no warning the heart will act rationally and the brain will start to crave risks it normally protects you from. They are at war but they are utterly codependent. A simple exploration of how life would be if ever the heart killed the head or if the head beat the heart into submission is horrifying.
Over the long haul you come to appreciate and respect the various strengths and weaknesses of each. Were it not for feelings of discomfort mixed evenly with ideas to relieve that discomfort nothing so much as going for a walk or lying down to sleep would ever happen. My boys are toddlers at the moment. Okay, the four year old may be a little boy rather than a toddler by now, but I’m letting my heart win this one for the moment and I’m keeping him firmly in the toddler camp. Anyway, they aren’t balanced at all. Their heads can figure stuff out in retrospect, but if their hearts want something their heads surrender immediately. They scream and cry and cast accusations at the first hint of disappointment. It’s not their fault. Their brains are yet to build up defenses and their hearts are enabled to be full actors in order to ensure that they are tended to and there needs met. The hearts are untamed, but fully functional nearly immediately. It’s a blunt tool at this point, but an effective one.
As they get older the balance of power will shift and they will exert more and more control. It’s a long way off, but I trust it will happen. And when it does, I hope they keep the heart active and strong as the older I get, the more important a role it has. I’ve heard woman worry about me and other men saying things like, ‘I worry about him. He just bottles everything up and it’s not good. I wish he’d just open up to me.’ The sentiment in these words is kind and helpful, but totally misguided.
I’ve been using the principles of Rick LaVoie, a thought leader in the world of Special Education, in my work for at least 12 years. One of the eye opening lessons I’ve learned from him was in regard to how we teach social skills to people that lack any facility in that area. More to the point, how we fail in teaching these skills. His point was that we, us parents and caregivers and educators, are often terrible teachers of social skills because our skills are SO advanced from those we are hoping to teach that we aren’t likely to break down the skills far enough for it to be useful for the student. He talks about walking in to a movie midday, when the theater is practically empty. You and I know not to sit near the 2 or 3 other people in the theater. It is so intuitive that we would never think to teach it. But for the individual struggling to understand the social environment this may be a much more important lesson to learn than teaching them to maintain eye contact, a skill that is actually much more complex then it sounds to a person with high level social skills, which is practically everyone not effected by certain disabilities that limit understanding of the social realm.
I think of this lesson often when I hear women who are befuddled by the men in their lives and how ‘closed off’ they are. Sometimes they are even hurt by this, thinking that this man is withholding something from them specifically. While what they’re seeing is true, how they understand it is way off. We are shut off. But this blockage is not located in brain and it certainly isn’t located in the mouth. Women are so skilled in the area of experiencing and expressing emotion that they can’t conceive of how different it is experienced by men. For one thing, we are less and less capable of transitioning between emotions with each shift. If I move from happy to mad as a result of something, and it almost always is the result of something and not just a shift without external input, it’s not going away anytime soon. Having a front row seat to the abilities many women have to cycle through emotions, say a number that might seem small to a woman, say 5 emotions from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed, it is equally befuddling to us that ANYONE can manage such a thing. This would possibly put me in the hospital, but it would DEFINITELY require me taking a day in bed. Most men are simply incapable of this type of emotional dexterity. The thing you experience as us being ‘closed off’ is experienced either as nothing at all to us, or we are sensing our emotions, other than anger and joy usually, as being ‘closed off’ from us as well. We’re rarely hiding anything, and if we are, it’s certainly not a ‘feeling’. The emotional pallet that women use is one that can paint a beautiful and nuanced landscape with details and colors that if men were to spend a lifetime trying they MIGHT be able to see and appreciate, but would never be able to imitate or replicate. Our pallet, if we are lucky, has the primary colors. We have no brush or canvas. We draw simple stark lines.
I was fortunate to be very close to my sisters. This afforded me the chance to do longitudinal studies from close range on the differences in how we took in and took on the world as it unfolded before us. They were and are the best friends I could ever have. If you asked them they might be shocked to hear that since I never give as much as I get. I feel bad about that, but I also know that while some of that is my fault, some of it’s just nature.
I have two sons and very little likelihood that the family will grow. I love our family unit, but wonder if they may miss out on a very important understanding of the world that I was given by having sisters.