Listen to your heart, but don’t follow it

Last night, I shared some fragments of my life story with a group of friends and explained a bit of my philosophy regarding life. One of the things I said in particular was that I regretted the timing under which I got married. Looking back, my wife and I both agree that we would have been well-advised to wait at least a year, until our circumstances were more conducive to starting a marriage off well. In general, I think getting married young (anything under 20-22) is almost always a mistake. Sometimes things work out, but they very often do not.

I think some of the friends took this to mean that I don’t believe in the power of love, or that I discount the importance of emotion or passion, even in matters of the heart. This isn’t necessarily the case, but I have learned not to trust it.

“It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes… we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.”
~Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I’ve been working on getting my pilot’s license, and one of the things we’ve been working on is learning to survive and escape if you fly into a cloud. Flying into bad weather is the number one killer of pilots, because when you fly in the clouds, your body tells you things that are completely unreliable. You feel like you’re turning left when you’re actually straight-and-level, or vice versa. Without visual reference, our bodies are terribly unreliable about determining which way is up. Untrained pilots who venture into the clouds take just minutes to lose control and plummet to their death.

I do not take the view that emotion has no value. Rather, just like the messages that our bodies send us regarding which way is up, emotion is too unreliable to be useful to serve as a primary guide for decisions. When flying in the clouds or navigating relationships, what you feel is very often wrong, and you should be very wary of trusting it.

Looking back over my life, almost every decision that I truly regret was primarily made based on emotion, on what I felt at the time. But the consequences of our decisions do not stem from what we feel, but what we do. There’s a line in Zach Braff’s movie The Last Kiss where the main character’s father-in-law has this great piece of wisdom:

What you feel only matters to you. It’s what you do to the people you love. That’s what matters. That’s the only thing that counts.

Your emotions can be valuable cues and indications of things that you should pay attention to and explore further. But when it comes time to make a decision, even in matters of the heart, don’t just blindly follow your heart.

“The emotions aren’t always immediately subject to reason, but they are always immediately subject to action
~William James