“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”
Or so they say. No matter who is given the credit, that oft misquoted quote always bothered me, and not only because it implies I had no heart when I was 25 (my conservative years) and that I have no brain now (peace, love and unicorns baby), but because it makes no sense. I mean, I get the idea. Young people are more likely to be free-spirited liberals living in hippie vans preaching peace, love and hope for all, that is, until they have a head-on collision with the Real World, start families and discover the need to protect their own, the value of money, bogged down by bills and the pressure to keep up with the Jones’.
But seriously, is that really all life is? This linear experience where you can be this or that, and nothing in between? Are we merely all separate characters in the Wizard of Oz, in constant search of our missing human components along the yellow brick road? Can we never be whole? Is it that impossible to grow into your brain while still keeping in touch with your heart? Do you really have to choose between the two?
When I was younger, let’s say from 18-28, standard intelligence measurements would indicate I did indeed have a brain, but my heart was just learning what it meant to be a heart. It was of smallish proportions and there wasn’t a ton of room for much other than me. It hadn’t quite figured out its purpose yet; I hadn’t lived much, experienced much, and had no idea what my heart was capable of, had no clue just how big it could get. At the appropriate above quoted age to have a heart, I was too busy being my most selfish-self.
In the age range appropriate to think with your heart/be liberal, I used Planned Parenthood services without thinking twice of the fights already fought to make them available to me in my small town. I enjoyed the natural beauty of the National Parks and lands without understanding their constant struggle to keep protected lands protected, or how reliant they are on donations and volunteers to operate. I drank clean water, not wondering where it came from, breathed fresh Wisconsin air, not worrying a bit about the quality (a hint of manure in the breeze will always smell freshest to me). I received an excellent high school, collegiate and graduate education, not caring too deeply about how the whole education system operated, or how lucky I was people in power actually cared about the public school system. And as soon as I started making my own money, I immediately began to waste most of it on me. I didn’t volunteer my time or donate to important causes (or any cause really), unless you consider my wardrobe, food and beverage consumption, the newest electronic gadgets and other needless home decor “important causes.” But at the time, that stuff was important to me. In short, my existence was all about me.
As I aged, my heart grew bigger, not smaller; through people, through travel, through adventure, through life. My experiences introduced different lenses through which to see the world, sort of like how you can swap out a camera lens and get a totally different photo while looking at the exact same landscape. Sometimes you see the fine details, sometimes you see the bigger picture. Sometimes you see a photo from an angle that no matter how hard you try, you can’t reproduce it yourself. Other times you see a photo that shows you things impossible to see with your own two eyes. Not to mention all those quirky filters you can apply. I learned the world through my default lens looked much different from the world through my neighbor’s default lens, no matter how similar of lives we lead. I walked thousands of miles not necessarily walking in, but learning about, someone else’s shoes. I opened my ears, closed my mouth and dropped the attitude, “Well if I can do it, anyone can.” Just because I found a way to do it, doesn’t automatically mean everyone can find a way to do it. That isn’t the way it works, though it makes for a good slogan. “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps! I did!” Even if that were physically possible, it’s assuming all people have boots on their feet to begin with. And they don’t.
If I gave you the board game Sorry! and asked you to play Monopoly, you might run into some challenges. Sure, they’re both board games, both published by Parker Bros/Hasboro, but they use totally different pieces, boards, concepts, and play by different rules. Those fortunate enough might just go out and buy the game of Monopoly and start playing, no big deal. Those creative enough might fashion new pieces, alter the board a little, make their little ragtag game of Monopoly-ish work. Others might be totally fucking confused. If you wanted me to play Monopoly, WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST GIVE ME THE GAME OF MONOPOLY, YOU ASSHAT? Still, some will look at the game of Sorry! and be all like, screw Monopoly, this game rules!!! (It’s true, it does). Then you got those who refuse to play either board game because they think board games are stupid. And people who don’t play board games are the real monsters of this world.
Today is my birthday. I have now lived 36 years of life. I don’t fall into either side of that quote, either end of the linear equation of life; that’s sort of the whole idea behind this entire blog. More often than not, I find myself taking the other fork in the road. I live my life in scribbles. My heart is as big as it’s ever been, neurotransmitters are binding to the receptors in my brain like whoa. I am still learning not to judge everyone’s way of life solely based on my own personal experiences, desires and beliefs. This is an extremely difficult thing to master, and I’ve relapsed more than once. I’ve found the best way to get back on track is to have even more personal experiences with the Great Variety that is Life. And oh, how I value those personal experiences. They’ve shaped me, given me the solid foundation I’ve been waiting to build on for so long. They’ve made me who I am today, and I am proud of that person. My eyes are open, my ears are perked, my heart has expanded beyond the simple outline of an organ and my brain is soaking it up and processing it all. Imagine that. A world in which you can have both a heart and a brain.
So what do you call people over 35 who exercise their brains, want to protect and provide for their own families, value equal rights for all humans regardless of race, religion or gender, believe in protecting our beautiful earth, the institution of education, practice tolerance, acceptance and have a heart with all the feels?
The Future of America.
(and maybe a wee bit optimistic)
5 thoughts on “a heart and a brain”
I followed you all the way since you left.happy birthday from a 8o year old George
Oh, how I love this. Life is a progression and the older we get the less we realize we know, which I think makes for more empathy. It took me having kids to really, finally see that. (I’m glad you figured it out with much less physical pain) 🙂 Happiest of birthdays to you!
Ahhh, this is a beautiful post. I’m barely into my twenties, so it was really interesting to read this. Happy birthday!
Happy birthday! re: the “bootstraps” thing, the On The Media podcast has a great series they did recently called “Busted” where they are busting that myth and showing how easy it is for people to *not* succeed or have the floor fall out from under them when they are almost doing ok. It is heartbreaking and was extremely eye opening for me. I definitely remember the times in my 20s when I had to choose between fixing my car and meeting my rent/groceries for the month. I was lucky to have parents who could pay for the car repair bill.
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Exactly. I’ll have to give it a listen! But yeah, not everyone has the parental fallback or the life skills or the means (and it amazes me that some people can’t seem to grasp that concept). It doesn’t mean they’re lazy or dumb or the worst. I’ve seen it so many times in the past few years, hard working good folks, trying to turn things around, but struggle and drown, my heart hurts. Eyes…open.