Concepts taken from “Free Hearts,” by Alexandre Havard
Written By: Krista Keil
Can you recall a time in your life when you struggled to make a decision? What was it that gave you pause? I can recall several moments in my adulthood in which I’ve had to grapple with seemingly difficult life decisions; whether it involves a career decision, navigating conflict in relationships, family matters, or responding to moments of deep suffering, decision making is not an easy task. This is why it is vital to ask ourselves, how can we make the best decisions possible? What are the components that can strengthen our decision making capabilities?
When I was in college, a good friend (who we’ll call Annie), shared a traumatic experience she had; she asked what I thought the appropriate response would be. The advice she was given by another was to, “follow her heart.” That said, for Annie, this advice only led to greater confusion: her “heart” was feeling a multitude of emotions, of which she did not know how to sort out- which one was she supposed to follow? Should she have responded on impulse? In retrospect, I don't think the advice was wrong--- just incomplete.
The human person has three main operators that drive our decisions and behavior: the heart, the intellect, and the will. The heart serves dual functions as the center of our physical and spiritual functioning, and is also responsible for our deepest emotions and inclinations. The heart operates at optimal capacity when ordered and aligned by reason and the will. Our ability to reason drives our thought processes, and the will, consists of both our conscience and our intellect. These three “centers of freedom,” must be exercised together, and function in conjunction, for the human person to achieve balance. These primary components of the person function much like a car engine: although many parts are needed for it to operate, the engine can only function properly if the vehicle is regularly serviced and cared for, and all parts are in working order. So how do we align these three aspects of ourselves to work in accord with one another and prevent them from “malfunctioning?”
In order for the human person to live a life of purpose and ultimately to flourish- our emotions must be ordered and in congruence with our conscience. Thus, it is crucial that we take the time to thoughtfully form and develop each area of our spiritual and psychological functioning: our intellect, our will, and our emotions. This will only enhance our decision making capabilities. The mind, the heart, and the will were never meant to independently operate as the sole source of wisdom and decision-making. They are designed to work in unison with one another to help us become the best version of ourselves and guide us in deliberating the right course of action. As exemplified in Annie’s situation, our decision making capacities actually become distorted when our centers of freedom are imbalanced. When we fail to use all three operators equally, the design of our nature as human beings is stifled. When one component is emphasized over the other, or is lacking, confusion can ensue. What if Annie was given the advice to solely follow her rationale? Would this help her? Just as much confusion would occur if Annie exclusively followed her intellect or will, for they too, become disordered without the sentiments of heart to balance them. When siloed, any one of these components fails to address all aspects of the human person and will stunt personal growth and development.
To spark further reflection, I will leave you to ponder a few questions that are meant to help you deliberate your own decision making processes. As Blaise Pascal states, “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” I encourage you to reflect on the following:
Do you use all three centers of freedom in your decision making process?
Do you lean on one more than the other?
How have your decision making processes impacted you and shaped your life?
What would help strengthen your deliberation process when making decisions?
What practical steps can you take to align your heart, mind, and will?