copyright 2004 by Tracy Marks
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Politics Index

Toward a Politics of the Heart
The Feeling Dimension of Political Influence
copyright 2004 by Tracy Marks,
Member of New England Tikkun

Over 35 years ago, Robert Kennedy said, “Our country is in danger, not just from foreign enemies, but from our own misguided policies. There is a contest not just for rule of America, but for the heart of America."

These works speak to us today, although we may now ask, “Where is the heart of our politicians?” Political leaders and TV commentators engage in vitriolic debate, but do not speak to the hearts of the American people. For political influence to be effective and constructive, it must speak to our feelings – to our desires, fears, anger, hopes, and above all, our hearts.

Arguments appealing only the mind do not necessarily influence political orientations. Granted, many people make decisions by intellectually weighing pros and cons; others, however are guided primarily by feeling. Still others are subliminally influenced emotionally, and use their powers of thought to justify the stance their feelings have already determined. To influence them, politicians must appeal to their underlying feelings.

Our political attitudes are often determined on an emotional level by desire, fear, anger and love/compassion. Some politicians appeal to our personal desires – to pay lower taxes, or secure our children better education. Politicians who instead evoke fear may increase our anxiety and sense of helplessness, so that we close our hearts and cling to familiar sources of security. Fear can also turn to anger, and the determination to create less frightening conditions.

Politicians and political situations which stir our anger may influence us to unite with others in political protest. Anger can mobilize, and can lead to change, but often it remains anger AGAINST and is not channeled into anger and action FOR. A nation angered by violations such as 9/11 may vent its rage in military aggression and vengeance – disguised by the veneer of justice and good intentions – rather than find and fund its caring for people in need.

President Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies a theft from those who are hungry and not fed, from those who are cold and not clothed.”

Most of us are capable of caring and compassion, but not all of us can extend the bounds of our caring beyond the select few we hold dear. We care about our children, but if our children are healthy and we have no contact with families who cannot afford the medical care their children need, we may not be deeply committed to their wellbeing. They are not fully real to us.

Albert Einstein wrote, “A human being experiences himself as separated from the rest… This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.”

The major religions all urge their followers to be kind, compassionate and generous to the suffering and disadvantaged. Karuna, compassion toward those who suffer, is one of the four ideals of the Mahayana Buddhist. For Muslims guided by the Koran, God is compassionate and merciful, and asks His people to be so also, especially to the poor. Jews and Christians are both instructed by the Psalms: "Do not harden your hearts" (Psalm 95). A guiding principle of Judaism is "Be kind to the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt’” (Deuteronomy). Likewise, Christians learn from Jesus, "Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself." (Matthew).

For us to experience genuine caring for strangers, for humanity as a whole – the form of love which the Greeks call agape – we must cultivate not only compassion but also the imagination which can extend that compassion beyond our personal network.

Such openness has its price. Many of us are overwhelmed by the demands of our lives and loved ones, and maintain control by limiting the expansiveness of our hearts. We may seek to anaesthetize our personal suffering – through television, alcohol, and legal or illegal drugs – and are therefore loathe to open to the greater suffering of humanity.

But most of us want to experience love and connection to the larger world and to feel less alienated, and are concerned about the future of our country and planet. We are capable of caring on humanitarian level, if only our leaders and their spokespersons would speak to our deepest concerns. We can care more deeply if we are convinced that they genuinely care about our struggles – and seek, by word and demeanor (congruent with their actions and policies) to better our lives. We can care more about people we do not know if our leaders communicate deeper caring themselves – not necessarily through sentimental jargon, but rather through heartfelt expression, and the translation of that expression into political actions which give form to their values. We also need them to help us see and experience how we are all bound together, and how the plight of the less fortunate concerns and affects us all.

Political leaders who have the most impact speak to our desires, fears, anger, hope and caring. Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and recently Howard Dean inspired millions because of their catalyzing blend of passion with compassion, anger with resolve, and clarity of thought and language with inspiring vision. The most effective political speakers do not only curse the darkness cast by ill-fated policies; they also turn on a light which awakens hope and the vision of a promising future for all.

For our political leaders to win our confidence, they must delineate for us the relationship between our personal concerns and their political agenda. To inspire our commitment to the welfare of all of us, they must not only address our personal agenda, but must also help us recognize and take seriously the struggles and needs of those outside our life circles.

In order to awaken our hearts and expand our capacities to care and commit, our leaders and leaders-to-be must not only wield swords and bear armor in the political battlefield; they must also be willing to put down their swords and strip off their armor, to feel and reveal their caring, to speak to our hearts from their hearts.

This article may be freely distributed but only in complete form with title and header including copyright notice and reference to New England Tikkun. For information about Tikkun organization and magazine, go to . Tikkun is a Hebrew expression meaning to heal, mend or repair the world..

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