Bless your heart is a revered Southernism and a genteel way of telling someone that he/she is dim or mentally disabled. Its use is mostly innocuous, and it is useful in prefacing an explanation. One of the only times I used it was when I was out to breakfast with a Mainer who, when perusing the menu, asked "What's a grit?" Come on- she had it coming, right?
You can put an awwww in front of it, for added pity. The main purpose is to sweetly express confounded amazement that such a slow-witted and sheltered person could survive outside of the womb or a protective bubble for more than a few minutes. This person must therefore be addressed as one would address a puppy.
It's harmless, and it's funny until you're tired of it. It finds its way into a lot of country songs, but there it's mostly used as winking, church-approved code for "fuck you." In the same spirt, folks sometimes boast about how, in confrontations, they resist the urge to say nasty but heartfelt things like "fuck you," and substitute a similar phrase; something unrelated and so disarmingly positive that and makes the other person feel like she's being petty and mean. Whether by positivity or simple confusion, these phrases can de-escalate angry and tense situations.
"The cashier at Target was sooooo rude, but instead of getting the manager I just told her that Jesus loves her. She didn't know what to say." These interruptive non-sequiturs don't have to be religious- I'm sure you could tamp down a confrontation with a secular "Isn't it a beautiful day?"- but they usually are. I think it's because many people look at phrases like "Jesus loves you" as so unimpeachably positive that they are heavily guardrailed and direct on-ramps to the high road in any situation. The belief there is that no one would have the raisins to follow up a Jesus loves you! with a Go fuck yourself! I can't really argue with that.
I was smacked upside my angry head by a phrase like this just the other day- I was on my bike and some idiot almost hit me. The close call didn't faze me- these things happen all the time. I was turning left, hand signal and everything, from a middle lane when a woman turning left from the road I was turning onto almost turned right into me, the guy with the right-of-way. Content that the driver had stopped in time, I was starting again on my merry way when I heard the angry honk (artist's rendering of events below).
I veered off of my merry way. Pardon me, ma'am, but an angry honk when the entire thing was your fault is not something I am likely to tolerate. Yeah, there is something to be said for turning the other cheek. But even the likes of cold-blooded ethicians like Peter Singer have written about how letting bad behavior slide is just the same as condoning it. Such actions are more effectively combatted with a tit-for-tat approach. Besides, sometimes when you're right, you've gotta act like it. So much for taking the high road.
So I clearly voiced my displeasure to the driver, free of profanity or threats (really). She rolled up her* window the remaining ten percent like I was a bum trying to wash her windows. But when I had made my point and was riding away, I heard her yell "God loves you! Get off the road!"
Talk about mixed messages. What do those two things have to do with one another? If god loves me as he loves everyone else, shouldn't I be able to use the roads, too? Or maybe god loves me, but loves others more and therefore blessed them with cars** so they could have dominion over the road? If that's the case, does he love bus drivers the most? Very confusing. Maybe he loves me so much that he feels edgy watching me risk my hide on the streets of bike-unfriendly Nashville. Or maybe it was a veiled threat; "Hey, God loves you, which will really come in handy next time we meet on the road and I squash you with my Mustang."
I'm sure on her blog, she's the protagonist and I'm some asshole who basically accosted her on the road. I was angry, and she was levelheaded enough to keep calm and drop a fat nugget of positivity into an otherwise tense situation. What's more is she was able to respond to me in a loving way, spreading the seed of an enlightening philosophy and way of life in the process.
Obviously I have a problem with that, and it's not because she invoked religion- it's because she invoked bullshit. The kind of blinding bullshit that tricked her into thinking that the problem in this situation was some angry guy who can't even afford a car***. The kind of bullshit that allows her to drive away, smartphone in hand, congratulating herself for rising above a situation when she should be wallowing down in it, perhaps interpreting my anger as a sign that maybe she should pay more attention when she drives.
Lady, you can't do that. You can't be wrong, lash out in anger, then dial it back with some phony church talk when someone calls you on your actions. You were mad at me, remember? You let me know it. Then I let you know how I felt. You are not allowed to pull god's ripcord at this point. Stand by your honk! It should be able to withstand a little challenge. If you think the lord's roads are for driving and texting only, yell that. By going her route, she left delicious zingers coagulating on the table, like:
Hey! Third grade called- it wants its preferred method of transportation back!
Not the best, I know, but I just thought of that right now. She could have done much better. Do you ever get mad about something, then think about it and get even madder that you cared enough to get mad in the first place? That's me with this one. It just burns me up that she could drive away from our little run-in feeling satisfied and superior. There's a chance she might even be telling her friends about it, and encouraging them to pollute the air similarly when they have the urge to say something untoward. Oh god, and they might actually do it. To anyone who thinks he is brightening or enlightening when they spout some obviously disingenuous malarkey during a conflict: Stop! You are not making the world a better place- you are making people want to murder you.
Perhaps this lady thinks she won some favor with the almighty by giving him a quick shout-out in a tense situation. She might even think that it's gonna help her if she's on the bubble when heaven's Selection Sunday comes around. But if she thinks almighty god will be swayed by her tossing off some flimsy piety at a total stranger, she's got another thing coming, bless her heart.
* Yes, her. First, this: When I went to confront the driver, I didn't know whether it was a man or a woman. Now, this: Should it matter? I know it sounds bullying to yell at a woman, but isn't she just as dangerous behind the wheel of her car as a man would be? Dare I say that to give her a pass would have been downright sexist.
** I own 1/2 of a car.
*** I could totally afford a car if I wanted one.