This is my first post for 2013. I am writing it in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico having just returned from three weeks in Guatemala. What is in front of my mind is love. I remember back in 2011, a friend introduced me to one of his colleagues via an email and in this email he said to both of us “You are the only two people I know who can talk about social policy and love in the same sentence and have it be taken seriously.” Love is a tricky word – so loaded and so empty at the same time. And I do not talk so much about social policy anymore. What I do think and talk about often is relationships – the relationships that underpin the individual and collective creative processes that drive social change. In saying this, I mean social change geared towards growing a more peaceful, healthy, balanced and equitable world. And I am wondering – as I think about relationships – where does love fit into social change?
To answer this question, I’m inclined to define what I mean by love. Of course, there are many different types of love – but when it comes to social change and relationships (of all kinds from your relationships between spouses to relationships between strangers – if that isn’t an oxymoron), I’ve recently landed on the idea that for me love is kindness and compassion. To be loving means to be kind and compassionate. Love is something we can manifest towards everyone. Last summer, I found myself thinking that really I would like to be able to love everyone on the bus – which means I would to be able to be kind and compassionate with everyone on the bus. That is to say, I want to live a life where love is not something I want to reserve solely for people I know. And love is not only for expressing outwards – I aspire to be loving towards myself.
I also aspire to be able to love people unconditionally – all people. I know a lot of people who will tell me (and have told me) that this is naïve, not possible. “If someone murders your child, are you going to love them? Be kind to them? Really?” is one example of a reaction to talking about loving people unconditionally. “If your boyfriend or girlfriend betrays you, you can’t be expected to love them anymore!” is another. “A person who goes around loving unconditionally, is a person who lets their self get walked all over” is yet another reaction. I could go on.
Unconditional love itself is a huge topic. A topic tied to answering the question “What does it mean to be kind and compassionate?” Well, people have written books upon books about love, kindness and compassion, haven’t they? I am not going to try to define kindness and compassion or go any deeper into a definition of love. And I have decided not to try and answer the question posed at the beginning of this post: “Where does love fit into social change?” Rather, I would like to play with the question by posing other questions…
- What is love/loving-kindness? In what forms can it manifest?
- What does a loving relationship look and feel like?
- How are we being when we are being loving?
- How do we know when we are not being loving?
- On what occasions/under what circumstances would it serve us(the individual and/or the collective) well to be un-loving?
- What is kindness? On what occasions/under what circumstances would it serve us (the individual and/or the collective) well to be unkind?
- What is compassion? On what occasions/under what circumstances would it serve us (the individual and/or the collective) well to be dis-compassionate?
- What is the connection between the nature of our relationships with one another and the structures and systems of our communities/societies?
- What are examples of structures and systems (formal and informal) that reflect love-based relationships?
- Why do we often feel very uncomfortable talking about love in relation to political, economic and social change?
What’s love got to do with social change?
Plenty, I’m sure…but I’ll look to answer this question in depth later. For now, I’m going to delve into these questions some more.
I hope you will do the same.