To Love Is To SeeDecember 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. I 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?