Benefactors ennoble us through praise, a comment, recognition, a simple gesture, or a note. They also inspire our minds and touch our hearts.
I was fortunate enough to hear one of my benefactors, The Rev. Dr. Francis Wade, on a weekly basis from 1998 until he retired in 2005. Frank is universally recognized as a great preacher. He speaks and writes with clarity and a thoughtfulness that has touched countless individuals, as I was in 2001 when he observed:
“This past week has shown two of the ways that evil can affect human beings. It isolates the mind and kills the heart.”
I recently revisited The Face of Evil, Frank’s thoughts from the Sunday after the attacks of 9/11. His words were powerful at the time and they have stayed with me ever since.* After building a strong case that evil is a reality in life, Frank made this observation about the isolated mind killing the heart. Reading it again in the context of the divisions of 2020, it struck me like a bolt of lightening.
My thoughts immediately went to the recent news that plans by a domestic terrorist group to kidnap the Governor of Michigan also included televised executions and the burning of the state capitol. Those thoughts jumped to politicians and their enablers who have such a desire to retain power at all cost that they call for the disenfranchisement of millions of our fellow Americans because of disagreements with their politics or the color of their skin. And yes, I thought of the horrific murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in June in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes while Floyd was lying face down handcuffed on the street. We have reached the point in our civic lives where we can be easily overwhelmed by evil and hatred.
Theologians are not the only ones who see humans as possessing both an intellect and a soul that work best when they work in tandem. Scientists, ethicists, philosophers, activists, and poets have all reminded us that to live fully is to live with both mind and heart engaged.
What happens, however, if they are separated? When the mind becomes isolated and the heart is left to wither? Frank has some ideas.
“An isolated mind disregards the essential value of others. Isolated minds allow others to become faceless, unique-less, discounted, and expendable. That sort of isolated thinking is the root of all prejudice….When evil kills the heart it takes away love, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and gentleness.”
“The hatred we let flourish in us is a heart-killer,” Frank notes, and we are as susceptible to it as those whose work we saw on 9/11.
Hatred is seductive. When we get to the point where the hatred in our isolated minds is killing our hearts, we may find it satisfying to hold onto our grudges and pass judgement without thinking of the consequences to ourselves and to others. We undertake actions that may be against our best interest simply to “own” or “trigger” another group. And we may not see it as evil, because in the modern world we have avoided evil’s reality for a long time.
Much of what we are seeing in today’s polarization is designed to isolate the mind and kill the heart. It is evil, feeding on hatred and sowing discord. There are those who work to control our financial systems, branches of government, and mass media who benefit from polarization. And they are a force in our lives, a force that requires résistance.
Think about it. We can only put children in cages, separated from their parents, when our hearts are not involved in the decision. We can only dismiss the pain of under-employed, drug addicted, hate-filled rural residents and put their plight out of our minds if we take our hearts out of the equation. We can only deny the systemic racism that is part of our national DNA and evident for those who care to look if we rationalize our choices while refusing to give our hearts any voice in the matter.
As David Charles Rodrigues, the director of the film Gay Chorus, Deep South has said, in light of the growing hate and intolerance we all need to step back and begin “judging our judgements.” We need to resist the hatred that profits from polarization and do the hard work of reconciliation with those who have hurt us and who we have hurt.
Writing in the context of 9/11, Frank noted that “The Middle East is filled with the rhetoric of dead hearts where people foolishly seek the absence of their neighbors rather than community with them.” I believe we can take Frank’s statement and rewrite it to say, “America in 2020 is filled with the rhetoric of dead hearts….” We are just as susceptible to hatred as anyone else.
I have written before about ways we can get past the haughtiness of certainty and the toxicity of stubbornness that is at the core of the isolated mind. In terms of the intellect, we should heed the words of economist Jeffrey Sachs who has written that, “We are a technology-rich, advertising-fed, knowledge-poor society.” Correcting our information crisis requires both individual and community action. For my part, I have stopped reading progressive sites and writers where attacking our fellow citizens seems to be part of the sport. Those on the right might consider ditching FOX News and the rest of the right-wing infotainment network for similar reasons.
In terms of our hearts, we need to nurture empathy so that we are better equipped to appreciate the challenges others face. It is difficult to remain stubborn when you bring in your heart and are empathetic to the needs of others. According to recent neuroscience, empathy is hardwired into all mammals. Our default — our authentic self — is to have the courage and strength to help others. But as Frank notes, the force that wants to isolate our minds and kill our hearts is very strong. That force is working on us to suppress our authentic selves in the hope that we will only focus on our needs and our grievances.
This week of Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to begin to change. Resist those forces of hatred, discord, and polarization with both your mind and heart.
More to come…
*The sermon is included in Frank’s 2002 collection entitled Rites of Our Passage.