Love and Networks

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Three years ago I had the privilege of helping to design and facilitate a convening of people in Maine interested in the power of networks for social change. The day featured many interesting presenters, including Michael Edwards who gave a provocative concluding talk entitled “Love and Networking.” His words have been coming back to mind of late, as I do work in different systems where networks are all the rage and we struggle to balance the more formal structural elements with the animating consciousness and connectivity that are the transformational juice. During this Labor Day holiday, I invite you to consider Michael’s inspiring words, excerpted from the fuller presentation, and add your own thoughts and reactions:

“We can improve the functioning of networks significantly through our own self efforts and the application of tried and tested approaches to conflict-resolution and network management, but unless we also experience a transformation of the heart we are unlikely to be able to practice deep collaboration and sustain it over the long haul, especially on contentious issues. What the poet Rumi called the ‘thieves of the heart’ – greed, ego, anger, fear and insecurity – will erode the success of even well-intentioned efforts to reach out and make connections with others. Great inner strength is required to confront the structures of power in the world unselfishly, without demonizing one’s enemies, alienating potential allies, or holding on too tightly to a particular vision of ends and means that can eventually become a prison. Only by operating from the space where we are joined together in some deeper sense are we likely to find common ground in facing up to the collective problems that confront us, with some of our differences intact. . . .

This, I think, is what Martin Luther King meant when he spoke about ‘the love that does justice’ and ‘building the beloved community’ – the deliberate cultivation of mutually-reinforcing cycles of personal and social transformation centered around the practice of unconditional love that moves out into the world as a force for change in politics, economics and social relations. Our life mission, he said, is to translate love into justice structures. This is not a weak-willed approach to deep-rooted issues of power and disenfranchisement, but a call to acknowledge those realities and move through them from a different sense of self. One cannot ‘bake a cake from the icing down’ as the saying goes – one has to do the hard work of surfacing, understanding and sorting through those differences in order to create a foundation – a cake – that is strong enough to support the icing you layer on the top – the actions or positions you take in your networks. And unconditional love is important in helping us to acknowledge the attitudes and experiences that lie hidden or disguised inside each one of us, like racism and homophobia or the stereotyping of others for their beliefs. . . .

In this sense, love is radical equality-consciousness, a force that breaks down all distance and hierarchy. This is a love that respects the necessary self-empowerment of others, eschewing paternalism and romanticism for relationships of truth and authenticity, even where they move through phases of conflict and disagreement, as all do. This is a love that encourages us to live up to our social obligations as well as our individual moral values, connect our interior life worlds to public spaces, encourage collective judgments and create open networks of self-reflective and critical communication. . . .

The ‘beloved community’ is really the ultimate network, and the way we can get there is by marrying a rich inner life dedicated to the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion with the practice of new forms of social and political engagement. We are, to be sure, only at the beginning of our journey of love into action, a journey that will take many generations to reach the more humane world that lies in waiting at its destination. My conviction that we are placed on the earth to love and be loved, not as an exercise in narcissism but as the wellspring of motivations that enable us to co-create a different and better world. And that’s why love and networks go together like peas in the proverbial pod.”

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