Two Boxes

Some of you know that I am a professor at Carey Theological College at UBC and that I have a private practice in psychology in West Vancouver. In both places I am aware that I work with my head and my heart, sometimes more of one than the other. When I meet people for the first time, I often make quick judgments of them as primarily heart-people or head-people. I guess I put them into boxes.

Box 1 is the empathy-compassion box. These are the pastoral, giving folk I meet. They emote integrity and doing right is most important to them. They might give you their last dollar, as did the New York policeman who gave a street person his warm socks and winter boots (this was reported in the news last week). Heart people are friendly, trustworthy, sociable and want to be helpful. These folk are the “heart” of churches, families, community centres and everywhere people are considered more important that programs. They have high social and emotional intelligence. They think with their hearts.

Box 2 is the competency box – this is the head box and it includes thinking intelligence, the ability to solve problems quickly, express creative ideas and fluent thoughts. These people are often motivated by success. They are typically problem solvers and talkers more than listeners, though they often do both. (At this point, some of you are liable to say something like, “This is exactly like my husband!” but in my meeting of people, women are as often to be thinkers-solvers as men.) The competency people are my go-to friends when I have a computer problem or when I need to consult on a difficulty in my life or in my work. They don’t hold my hand and emit sympathy – they get to the problem and figure out how to fix it.

I have found that Box 1 people (the warm-hearted ones) admire Box 2 people (the competency folk) and that Box 2 people wish they were more Box 1-ish, especially with intimates. Someone said that the difference between thinking with your head and thinking with your heart is only about a foot! However, the distance between head and heart is immense when one is stressed or in conflict. Then we tend to polarize around the value of thinking (“What you are saying is illogical. Can’t you hear yourself?”) and feeling (“You don’t understand what I am saying! Just listen to me.”).

When we first meet people most of us have intuition about whether he or she is more of a heart-person or more of a head-person. And we may warm to one over the other depending on the context. Recently I went to a social gathering that I was not interested in attending and I found myself cornered by a hyper-competent, business guy who wanted to tell me the evils of religion. I told him, “I know something about that” and he carried on without pause. I hoped for a little understanding from him, but his speech was well-practiced and thorough. Actually, I quite enjoyed the discussion once I figured out he was a Box 2 guy and that he was exercising his competency muscles. I flexed some of my Box 2 stuff as well.

It seems to me that intellectual competency and heart ability make for a healthy and soulful dyad in relationships and within ourselves. It also seems to me that this is the best competency in teaching and counselling, the best in conciliating and problem solving (though not the best in argument-winning), the best in movie-watching and in Christmas-present buying. And in novel reading, and friendship-making, and…