To Love Is To See

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

In the abyss I saw how love held bound

Into one volume all the lives whose flight

Is scattered through the universe around.

Dante Alighieri, from The Divine Comedy

“What’s love got to do with it?”  This is a question that gets raised with increasing frequency in our work at IISC.  Recently, while training a group of health care reformers from around the state of Maine, I presented what we call our “Profile of a Collaborative Change Agent,” which outlines the core attributes of those who, in our experience, are able to maintain a win-win outlook even in the most trying of circumstances.  Sitting conspicuously at the heart of the Profile (see below) is “the L word.”  Nodding heads and knowing smiles, in Maine and elsewhere, are an indication of the growing willingness to seriously consider the role of love in social change work. ProfileI wonder if part of what has made the love conversation more broadly alluring is research that is being done in different fields that renders this famously derided “second hand emotion” more tangible and relevant to our daily work and lives.  For example, Michael Edwards, formerly of the Ford Foundation, has written about the vital role of love in civil society and social movements.  In The Love That Does Justice, Edwards and a cast of contributors hold up love as “radical equality consciousness” and the force that ultimately breaks down distance and hierarchy to make social change happen.

From a different perspective, in their book A General Theory of Love, psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, explore the inner workings of the brain as evidence of love’s important unifying power.  It is, they note, in our so-called reptilian brains that we humans have developed the capacity of “limbic resonance” – the ability to neurally attune ourselves to and reflect one another’s inner states.  Paraphrasing the authors, while our higher brains may say that ideas hold sway in society, our limbic centers add the important element of “relatedness.”

“But what does love look like?”  Back to our training room in Maine.  The question came from a middle aged hospital administrator.  Into the subsequent thoughtful silence a seasoned physician interjected this observation – “Love, from my experience, is when you offer up unsolicited feedback to a someone that lets them know that they have been seen.”  The good doctor continued to say that this is more than giving feedback around commonly held expectations, more than just saying “Good job.”  It’s about re-specting (“looking again” for) someone’s full humanity.

And so Friends, what do you make of love?  And if loving is indeed seeing, what have you seen, how have you seen it, and to what end?

No Comments

  • Linda says:

    It’s this form of intimacy – of really seeing and being seen – that is so healing. I’m wondering, reading this, how you think we can do this in movements, in large social change and social justice efforts. I totally get it on the interpersonal level – and am fascinated with how to make these real, authentic connections that are so necessary on a larger scale. Wondering, I guess, how you think we can bring that to scale.

  • Curtis says:

    Great question, Linda! That’s the key in a sense, right? Bringing love to scale. I think that is what the ultimate aim of networks should be. It’s not just the number and pattern of connections, but the quality of those links, the depth. I’m thinking now of the small group ministry movement that I experienced in the UU church. Groups of no more than 8 people meet to tend to one another, and these replicate over time, and convene together at key junctures. It’s kind of like consultancies meet networks. I have seen these develop deep caring across huge communities. And I’m really curious to hear what our colleagues have to say on this!

  • Ralph Steele says:

    Linda’s question will never end because there is no beginning; the scale, using her words, that we apply to our inner world is utilize in our outer world. For example on a community level it’s sharing one’s truth but not being attached to it, especially after it has been given to the community. I believe that it takes a skillful level of mindfulness through whatever form of practice to cultivate one’ss truth, which is always changing. Love is the natural sweetness that might dwell in our limbic system and so many other places, and become intensify when we speak our truth with balance of our body, speech, and mind. The same applies in a community that has some consistency of coming together. It happens but is precious when it’s not in a church, temple, etc. which tends to be easier…… but a boardroom, organization, and any system that would like to inject change. I feel that love is more of a non-linear than a linear experience. The essence of Love is best express in poems and action, this wonderful blog contains both. Thank you and Enjoy…..Ralph

  • Gibran says:

    Thank you so much Curtis! It really and truly is about love. When I posted Linda’s question on Twitter, a friend of mine responded by asking “Isn’t love already at scale? Isn’t it about where we decide to meet it?”

    I think all questions about love should launch from this place of abundance, realizing that connection is an accessible experience. That being said, how do we contribute to make this a more broadly shared experience?

    As I look more deeply into distributed intelligence, I think it best to continue to manifest growing love in our own lives – throughout all its intersections, without compartmentalization. I like the idea of a hive of love!

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is our own experience of the Great Beings who walk and have walked the planet, and the way their radical love ignites others. I think that what inspires a powerful hive is a bunch of singularities striving to become the brightest, most generous star of the whole.

  • Curtis says:


    Thank you for the beautiful response! Is love at scale? Perhaps it’s potential is, I think that’s what you are saying. There is a field that we can tap into, right? The hive of love! Speaking of distributed intelligence, it strikes me that perhaps intelligence is too narrow in terms of what we are really seeking. I once wrote a song with the refrain, “Being smart just ain’t so smart at times as being kind.” That’s what I learned at Harvard. Too many people trying to be too smart. Where is the love? Where is the real need for one another?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *