When I was working, I learned about “skinny” words and “fat” words. Fat words have multiple meanings and are stuffed with connotations, making them subject to many different interpretations. Skinny words are direct, concrete, and specific. A fundamental concept of leadership is that, when giving direction, it is better to use skinny words. They tend to reduce confusion and are more likely to result in the desired outcome.
Now that I am writing a blog and not managing people, I am less interested in reaching a specific desired outcome. I’m more interested in suggesting ideas and stimulating thought. I’m renewing my relationship with words of all body types. I find that, when used deliberately, fat words can be evocative and effective.
“Heart” is one of those delightfully pudgy words. It just about explodes with meaning, memory, and feeling for most of us. We can easily identify many meanings for “heart.” I’d like to explore just a few of them on this Valentine’s Day.
First, we have the most literal meaning of the word. Our hearts keep our bodies going. They pump our life’s blood to the farthest reaches of our physical beings so that all our necessary organs have the energy to do their vital jobs. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. We do cardio exercise to reduce our risk. We scan the grocery store shelves looking for foods high in antioxidants to strengthen our hearts. We try to embrace low fat diets to minimize those pesky plaque deposits that can creep into our hearts’ highways through the body. Does it strike anyone else that it is pretty ironic that rich, high fat chocolates come in heart-shaped boxes? Of course, heart-shaped…. isn’t. Actually, the heart is shaped more like a fist, which, when I really think about it, is a bit disconcerting.
The beleaguered baseball players in the play Damn Yankees tell us ya gotta have heart. Miles and miles of it. I don’t know if we need miles and miles of it, but it is clearly true that a body needs a heart, in the most literal sense. Without that vital organ pumping away inside my chest, I have no life. On the other hand, without heart, I may have a life, but I may not be really living it. The heart about which our musical friends are belting is determination, persistence in the face of adversity, grace under pressure, and courage. Heart is what makes us root for the underdog. Heart is what enables us to do the things we believe we must do even when they seem impossible.
Which brings us to the “heart” metaphor most associated with Valentine’s Day- love. Heart means romance, but also love of all kinds. At this time of year, pink, red, and white hearts scatter all over everything. Flower and jewelry sales skyrocket. There is a certain pressure to put love on a pedestal and admire it from afar. In reality, though heartfelt love is up close and personal. It is a participation, not a spectator, sport.
A loving heart often requires deliberate decision making about what actions we take in life. When we decide to live a life of heartfelt love, we are deciding to view everything that happens to us and everyone we encounter through a lens of love. Love is not rationed. Loving one person does not reduce our capacity to love others. In fact, it increases it. Exercising our love muscles strengthens our ability to love, just as cardio exercise strengthens our literal heart muscles. As we become more adept at loving, we won’t love everybody the same way but we will love everybody better. Love involves both giving and receiving. It isn’t always easy or comfortable to do either. Sometimes, it almost seems impossible. To live with a heart full of love is the most beautiful way to live. That sort of life is as filled with meaning as that lusciously chubby “heart” word itself.” Living a life with a heartful of love is not for the faint-hearted. It requires that other kind of heart… the Damn Yankees kind of heart.
Have a Happy Heart Day, both literally and figuratively. At the heart of the matter, I wish you health, courage, and love. Oh, and have one or two of those rich, high fat chocolates that come in the heart-shaped box. Maybe just stick to the dark chocolate ones, though. All those antioxidants, you know!
I do realize that Valentine’s Day was actually yesterday…. but don’t you think today is still a great day to think about what is in our hearts? Now it’s your turn! What do you think of when you hear the word “heart?” Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can send me an email at email@example.com.
Have a heart-y day!