The Transformative Power of Love
A few months ago, I was invited to participate to the kick-off meeting of a new business venture. We were six at the meeting and I was the only female. The five gentlemen were gifted individuals, exceptional entrepreneurs, each with an impressive track record for having founded one or more companies or for having held high-level positions in organizations. Not only were these men brilliant, they also had “big hearts” and were driven by a deep sense of purpose and a set of values based on doing “good” for society.
As we brainstormed about the purpose and other aspects of the business, the word “love” came out, again and again, as one of the driving principles for the new venture. The thing was, it wasn’t coming from me. For unclear reasons, I started to feel somewhat uneasy and my rational mind started to ramble with a story line that went something like this: “Love! Love! This is all nicely said, guys! But we are dealing with very complex business problems here. We need tools such as systems thinking to see connections and embrace the complexity and we need to build the skills, capacity, and expertise to address tough issues.”
I went on like this, talking to myself, not daring to express my feelings, as I did not want to “spoil,” or to bring to an end, the amazing flow of energy that was in the room. As the meeting proceeded, I became very confused. I also grew very unhappy with myself. Here I was, the only woman in the room, and I was the one who was not comfortable talking about love within a business context while these guys seemed to feel perfectly at ease with it. My feelings stayed with me well after the end of the meeting throughout the following days, until, eventually, they slowly dissolved.
I won’t expand on the personal development change I went through since that meeting but I know now, with much certainty, that these men were right and I did not get it! From a very deep place within myself I know that love is the absolute necessary ingredient at the basis of all transformative work. Without love at the root of our work, we—change agents—will not be able to build a sustainable future.
Love, compassion, and deep empathy for our clients, business partners, teammates, communities, as well as our family and friends must be the sources and driving energies for our transformative work. How could we bring consciousness in organizations without love? How could we facilitate adaptive change without compassion? How could we find solutions to our tough problems without empathy for the people involved in the process? We need love as the new transformative power to develop higher level of consciousness. We need love to create a generative field and awaken our collective wisdom. We need love because these are times when the most accomplished rational mind is helpless to find solutions—not because the solutions are beyond human intelligence (they are not!) but because innovative solutions require us to change our long-held mental models and values and to take a leap of faith into the unknown. We need love to believe in a world of possibilities, abundance, justice, equity, peace and harmony with the environment and with other living species.
In his most recent research and forthcoming book on “Getting Unstuck: Solving Tough Problems Through Power and Love,” Adam Kahane borrows from theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich to redefine power as “the drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity” and love as “the drive towards the unity of the separated.” As Kahane explains, power is the drive to achieve one’s purpose, to get one’s job done, and to grow, while love is the drive to reconnect and make whole that which has become or appears fragmented.
The redefinitions of these two fundamental forces of power and love—beyond their traditional meanings of “oppressive power” and “romantic love”—are very empowering when dealing with adaptive work. Every system, institution and living entity has a purpose (e.g., a school’s purpose is to educate and disseminate knowledge). Even when the purpose is not made explicit, it can be deducted from the behavior of the system (e.g., a school’s unstated purpose might be to have as many students as possible graduate each year). Adaptive work consists of making a system’s purpose explicit or, in some cases, redefining its purpose, and ensuring that the behavior of the system is congruent with the stated purpose.
Love relates to the principle of “Coherence”—that is, the idea that everything is already whole and that our task, as a collective, is to look for the ways that it is. It means that the solutions we seek, in fact, already exist, and that if we open ourselves enough to the possibilities and listen to our collective wisdom, we can resolve all the problems we face. This is why the process of “Dialogue” or “the art of thinking together” is so important when dealing with tough problems. The technology of Dialogue* is based on deep listening, respect of the positions of others (especially when they are at odd with our own) and on inquiry, all the while suspending assumptions, judgment and certainty, with the intent to see the big picture, patterns and trends and the belief that a new understanding will emerge out of the process. A dialogue is driven by the desire to see connections and to re-unite what has been separated.
As we bring our knowledge, skills, expertise, and all the gifts we were given to facilitating change, let’s also commit to bringing love, both in its traditional and new definitions, as the underlying force and energy driving our adaptive work.
I wish you all a very happy holiday season.
* To learn more about the origin and process of Dialogue, see Dialogue: A Proposal by David Bohm, Donald Factor, and Peter Garrett