Monday, 16 January 2012

Hard and soft hearts - and toughness


We must make tough decisions - that is decisions that are right but which lead to upfront, immediate costs.

For those with a soft, warm heart - these decisions are a cause of pain; but we must not harden our hearts to make tough decisions.


It is, indeed, a terrible spiritual hazard to harden the heart - for any reason or purpose whatsoever. Nothing, ever justifies deliberate hardening of the heart.


Because to harden the heart is to exclude love, to build a carapace of pride - it is, indeed, an act of cowardice: hard-hearted people are cowards, in the sense that they take the easier and more expedient root of not caring.

I perceive many people, many intellectuals in particular, and perhaps especially intellectuals on the secular Right (Nietzsche as the model), adopting a strategy of deliberate heart-hardening.

They expose themselves to evils and suffering with the aim of becoming immune to them, of deadening their reactions to them. They want to be tough, imperturbable, at the cost of hardening their hearts, indeed by means of hardening theie hearts.


(The ideal of being 'cool' is this - it is a fairly pure form of evil since it entails chilling the soul until it is unaffected by good of bad, but moves serenely through life, needing nobody else, living-off its own invincible self-regard.)


Fr Seraphim Rose perceived hardening of the heart as one of the great hazards of the modern world especially among Christians. He saw this as a hazard of ultra-correctness in religious practice - of legalism, rule-following, an enforcement of the self-righteous spirit.

Once hardness has become advanced in us, we find it difficult or almost impossible to come into contact with the world, of feeling life, when we cannot moved by anything for good or ill (only experiencing pleasure or pain - but not feeling joy or sorrow).

Orthodox holiness is a matter of tears.

Real tears are a consequence of a soft heart experiencing joy and sorrow - not hysterical tears, obviously not faked and manipulative tears, but natural 'weeping' from the heart.

(What is the cost of real weeping being taboo in modern society?)


In the past, tough men - not just monks but Kings and warriors - would cry readily in response to both beauty and loss.

Toughness is not indifference; indifference is not toughness. 

My Northumbrian Charlton ancestors lived in a situation of sustained violence on the border of Scotland and England over some hundreds of years - indeed some regard it as the most sustainedly-very-violent human situation in history.

These were tough men living in a tough world by any historical standard, yet they composed and listened to the Border Ballads; which stand among the best anonymous poetry of the world; they were soft-hearted men, who were affected by life, they wept openly and often.


And modern Charltons have retained some of this!

Bobby was probably the greatest footballer England ever produced. A tough sport. That's him on the right of this picture, being awarded the World Cup in 1966:

In tears - and still crying several minutes later - at 2.50 minutes

(What an image!)


And that is how we must be - both tough and warm-hearted like Bobby Charlton; Bilbo, Frodo and Sam; Harry Potter - all the real heroes.