Love and Freedom

February 23, 2010 10 Comments

Part 1 of 2, go here for Part 2.

Heart Fire

|Photo by LadyDragonflyCC||

Love as the practice of freedom has been on my mind these days.  My good friend Cyndi Suarez, who is the co-director of Northeast Action, recently shared a bell hooks essay by the same title – I appreciated Cyndi’s e-mail:

“I was thinking today on just how much social change movements reflect the dominant culture.  I just finished rereading an old-time favorite essay by bell hooks and had to share it with you. I feel it is as pertinent now as when I first read it 15 years ago.  I wonder what would change if at least some of us focused on building love rather power.”

In her essay, hooks points out that:

“Often [people] are too trapped by paralyzing despair to be able to engage effectively in any movement for social change.  However, if the leaders of such movements refuse to address the anguish and pain of their lives, they will never be motivated to consider personal and political recovery.  Any political movement that can effectively address these needs of the spirit in the context of liberation struggle will succeed.”

But hooks also points out that:  “In [many] progressive circles, to speak of love is to guarantee that one will be dismissed or considered naïve”.

Judging from any quick glance a bookstore’s top sellers, and looking at the pop-Guru status of people like Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra, it is clear to us that people are looking for something – happiness, meaning – a way out of fear.  Focusing on questions of power keeps us in a relatively measurable world, it allows us to gauge wins and losses, it helps us to understand struggles for control and domination.  But entering the question of love takes us into spaces that are immeasurable and make a direct demand on our own personal transformation.

We do not want to ignore the question of power, bell hooks certainly doesn’t.  I recently wrote a series of blog posts that included the lens of power, equity and inclusion as one of three keys for collaboration.  However, the same series of posts also included the lens of love as another one of these keys.  I am interested in the type of social change that will succeed, that will help to redefine how we are with one another in ways that reverberate through society at-large.  I am interested in freedom, and I’m looking for ways to place love at the center of this quest.


  • Curtis says:

    Gibran, I thought of you when I read this quote in Jon Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis (great read if you have not already looked at it). In his chapter on “Love and Attachments” he writes, “An ideology of extreme personal freedom can be dangerous because it encourages people to leave homes, jobs, cities, and marriages (relationships) in search of personal and professional fulfillment, thereby breaking the relationships that were probably their best hope for such fulfillment.” Seems to me that when we lead with freedom (which many of us do in this country), we lose sight of the bigger goals (connection, meaning). Love and attachment are psychologically proven to be the gateways to greater fulfillment, and to a kind of psychic freedom we cannot understand until we are more deeply connected.

  • Gibran says:

    Curtis – I appreciate this continuous push back on my “freedom” frame (see comments to blog post “Don’t get yourself isolated”). I intend to lead with love, but even in doing so it is for the purpose of freedom – the lived experience of liberation, a rupture with the conditions of captivity.

    I understand the potential misconceptions of the word, but the fact that some might hear freedom and enter the mindset of an adolescent who seeks to please themselves in a life free of responsibility is not itself enough to keep me from leading with freedom. When you come from the experience of colonization, and stand in solidarity with those who have known slavery and other forms of servitude, the freedom to be an agent in one’s own destiny takes on a certain level of primacy. Liberation is both possible and attainable, it might first come in glimpses, then as specific experiences, later on as states of being and finally a more steadily held stage of development.

  • Cyndi Suarez says:

    I appreciate the tension reflected above between freedom and community. It is easier to recognize the impact of the freedom of other’s than the impact of our own acts of freedom on others. I feel we don’t have words for engaging each other around this, lest we end up in a battle of personal perspective. This is where we are stuck.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks for this reflection folks. I agree that it’s hard to find the words that will allow us to avoid a polarizing discourse. I often wonder about freedom-as an end, as a means, and often muse about “freedom from” vs. “freedom to.” I commented on Marianne’s blog the other day about freedom being about the ability to choose the constraints, values, obligations within which one will live, vs. thinking of freedom as the asbence of constraints. I want to say yes to it all–freedom from oppression and want, freedom to determine one’s own desitiny, freedom to create meaningful relationships and community, freedom of conscience, speech and assembly, freedom to pursue one’s highest purpose…. and, I also want to make a case for balancing all of this with the freedoms of others.

  • Gibran says:

    Thanks so much for the engagement. I’m intrigued by the nature of your comments. This post is part 1, the next post will be on Love and Freedom in Community. But I want to be explicit about the kind of freedom I’m talking about. I’m talking about Mandela’s freedom, not just the freedom from Apartheid but the freedom that was his through 30 years in prison. Clearly this is not the freedom to do as you please, it is the sort of freedom no one can take from you, this is the freedom that makes any form of political freedom possible at all, and it is a freedom that I believe we can find within the essence of radical love.

  • Curtis says:

    Really appreciate the conversation taking place here as a practice for getting unstuck! And I hear you Gibran. I don’t doubt your intentions, I am mainly recognizing how we abuse freedom in this country as a means of gaining power of others and in the long run shackling ourselves to misery. Looking forward to Part 2!

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    I with you about the essence of freedom being about not being crushed or molded into submission, regardless of the external pressures and dehumanizing forces all around.

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