What Does ‘Speak from the Heart’ Mean?

One of my pet peeves is imprecise language. As I have written about before, I try to start all my conversations, lectures, writings, and other types of interactions with fairly clear definitions of the words I am using. I do this because common words contain a variety of personal definitions that are often at odds with each other. We may be using the same words but that doesn’t guarantee that we are saying the same things.

Speak from the Heart???

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have been asked to ‘speak from the heart’. It is one of those phrases that show up time and time again in everything from spiritual circles and interfaith settings to self-help groups and soft science discussions. I’ve even encountered the phrase at several business meetings.

Considering the countless number of times I have been encouraged to do this, to ‘speak from the heart’, I have yet to encounter an attempt at a definition. When I ask a straightforward question, like, “what do you mean by that,” I usually get an answer (sometimes just a look) that tells me, “you know what we mean.”

I don’t.

So, I’ve had to figure it out on my own.

I think I have.

My Definition = Speak from Experience

For clarity, I compiled all the instances that the phrase has been used in, then tried to tease out the implied meaning. I think I’ve figured it out.

When people ask me to ‘speak from the heart’, they are asking me to speak from experience. They don’t want to hear me quote a study, dogma, article, or professor; don’t want me to quote any outside sources. Instead, they want me to articulate myself based on my personal experiences, be they physical, emotional, or mental.

I can say this with some certainty because those who’ve asked me to do this aren’t always asking me to speak about my emotions (which is kind of implied by the use of the word heart). As I understand it, they are asking for an expression from the inside out. They are asking for an expression about experiences, some of which may be emotional, others may not.

From Abstract to Personal

By redefining the phrase, I’ve been able to shrug off the silly-shakes I’ve often felt when the phrase is used without definition and with an overly emotional emphasis. Instead of merely hearing the words ‘speak from the heart’, I also hear the implied words of ‘let go of abstract thoughts and speak from a personal standpoint, from experience’.

This redefinition has helped me.

Maybe it will do the same for you.

Gudjon Bergmann
Interfaith Minister, Author, and Speaker
Founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative

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