Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Habits of the Heart

Some of you may wonder at the title of this blog. What does it have to do with family, education, or community? I have chosen this title because it has everything to do with them.

The phrase has its origins in the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat who was one of the first European observers of the American political system.

He introduced the idea of "habits of the heart" as he observed the role of religion, morality and individualism in American politics. Tocqueville may have had his own meaning for the phrase, but here is how I see it:

We all have habits. While some can be good; most of them are bad. Some of us sleep too much. Some of us eat too much. Some of us may be late to everything. These habits develop over time as a result of self-indulgence, pride, ignorance, or despair among other things.

In addition to these physical habits, we also have habits of the heart. These habits develop just as physical habits do. We may fall into the habit of apathy; the habit of fear; of doubt; of pride; or the habit of  isolation.

But just as we can develop good physical habits, we can also develop good heart habits. We can cultivate habits of caring, of conversation, of teaching, of character. A habit of associating with others can be a very healthy habit.

Communities (and the individuals in them) need to develop and promote good habits of the heart. Some communities can collectively fall into habits of  materialism, isolationism, or excessive individualism.These are destructive habits, as addictive and devastating as the physical habits of drug or alcohol abuse. They must be curbed and overcome.

What habits of the heart are you developing?

"There is more of a link than is thought between the improvement of the soul and the betterment of the welfare of the body. Man is able to keep these two things apart and consider each of them in turn but he would not know how to separate them entirely without losing sight of both of them in the end."- Alexis de Tocqueville

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