The Importance of a Free Heart

I have written several books aimed at promoting virtue in leadership in which the heart is prominently featured. And yet I felt the need to author a new book that focuses exclusively on the heart’s role in leadership, because the subject is that important. Why?

Because, as I observed in my first book,1 leadership is virtue in action and virtue is a habit of the heart as much as it is of the intellect and the will. In fact, before the will and the intellect even begin to practice virtue, the heart needs to desire virtue. The heart must come to contemplate and prize virtue if it is to become a stable orientation toward action. And it must be a value in the hearts of leaders if they are to embrace virtue as a dynamic force in their professional and personal lives. Thus, the heart is nothing less than the foundation of virtue.

Magnanimity and humility, which are virtues of the heart par excellence, are the essence of leadership. Whereas prudence, courage, self-mastery, and justice—all virtues of the intellect and the will—are its foundation. A deeper knowledge of the heart will help us to practice magnanimity and humility more consequentially, thereby becoming better leaders, and, in fact, true leaders.

A second question may arise: With so much in contemporary social and political life being determined and steered by feelings and passions, often to the detriment of rational discussion, why write a book about the heart now, amidst the aggressive sentimentalism in which we are living? Why speak in defense of the heart, when the heart invariably trumps the intellect and the will? The heart has become so omnipotent that it would hardly seem to need an advocate.

I would say that in the name of the Heart we eliminated the heart, in the same way French Jacobins, Bolsheviks, and abortionists eliminated millions of human beings in the name of Man. Why? Because our vision of man and our vision of the heart are perverted. We do not understand the real workings of a human being.

It is more necessary than ever to speak about the heart and to tell the truth about it. An exalted and exalting truth. The heart refers not just to feelings produced by the (often selfish) demands of the flesh but also to sentiments produced by God in the depths of our being. In this sense, the heart cannot be isolated from the intellect and the will: man’s spiritual self is a unified reality.

In a world infested by feel-good quackery, I felt the need to tell the whole truth about the heart.

But why then “free hearts”? Why do I need to develop not merely a good heart or a great heart, but a free heart?

A good heart is full of good intentions. A great heart is full of good intentions and does good deeds. A free heart is something different. It is a heart endowed with an extraordinary power: the power to consistently perceive the highest realities of life, even if invisible (sensibility), and respond straight away to those realities (responsiveness).

Let me explain.

When we speak of freedom, we usually have in mind the freedom of the will. By freedom we mean that, unlike an animal whose will is determined by instinct, we can make choices.

Beyond this basic liberty—this free will—however, there exists a superior liberty—a liberty of the heart. A free heart is a heart accustomed to saying “yes” to transcendent values, to the impulses and divine inspirations that manifest themselves in the depths of our being. Our degree of freedom depends on the frequency and intensity with which we say “yes.”

Freedom of the heart is more difficult to achieve than freedom of the will. We need to work intensely on our interior selves. It is about much more than just doing something; it is all about letting go. It is about letting ourselves be touched, thrilled, embraced by that which is greater than us. In short, it is about letting ourselves be loved by God. Letting ourselves be loved should be the main task of our life.

Free Hearts will help us:

  • Achieve the optimal balance between the heart, the mind, and the will
  • Heal our heart when it is troubled and has been wounded, and
  • Enable our most noble sentiments and aspirations to attain new strength and maturity.

1. Alexandre Havard, Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence (New York: Scepter, 2008).

If you like this blog post, check out the full book!

Free Hearts

By Alexandre Havard