What is Love?

Progress Namibia - What is Love?
07 October 2019

I have written many times before about Dana Meadows, one of the best system dynamics modellers in the world, and a person who has inspired many of us in our work and life. Recently, at a meeting commemorating her, a fellow friend of hers and mine, John Richardson, shared with us the following warm words:

Love was a topic that was very important to Dana. She wanted to practice loving relationships and she applied her considerable insight and intellect to love and loving relationships with the same intensity she did to other subjects. The following is from an email she had written to me years earlier.

What is love? I believe love is receiving someone in a space of total trust, openness, good will, acceptance.

I can take each person I know and rank them on a scale which is the degree of openness and love with which I receive them; the amount of careful attention I am willing to give them; the ability I have to be with them. Notice that the quality lies in me, not them.

Some people in my world are objects, which I have a fixed concept about and am not at all open to any information to the contrary.

I can change who they are just by opening myself to them.

The following passage from Dana’s writing that I want to share with you is also about love. It is from a Dear Folks Letter, apparently first published widely, after Dana died. Dana wrote these letters periodically to friends, family members and eventually a wider audience of subscribers. They are available on the Donella Meadows Institute website (http://donellameadows.org/).

One is not allowed to say that in public any more. Anyone who calls upon the human capacity for brotherly and sisterly love, generosity, compassion, will be met with a hail of cynicism. Once when I tried to do so, a high government official stood up to say, "Of all scarce resources, love is the scarcest."

I just don't believe that. Love is not a scarce resource, it is an untapped one. Our jazzed-up, hustling, quantitative culture does not know how to tap it, how to discuss it, or even what it means.

I am a child of that culture, and worse, a scientifically trained one. I have been educated to trust in practicality, not in love. But I have also been trained to see whole systems, and the more I do that, the more I see that practicality and love are in fact the same thing.

What is love, but the ability to identify with someone or something beyond your own skin?

Love is the expansion of boundaries; the realization that another person, or family, or piece of land, or nation, or the whole earth is so intimately connected to you that your welfare and his, her, or its welfare are one and the same.

In truth, of course, we are all intimately interconnected with each other and with the earth. We have always been. Love has always been a practical idea, as well as a moral one.

Now it is not only practical but urgent. It is time to accept the astonishing notion that to be rational, to ensure our own preservation, much less that of nature and of future generations, what is required of us is to be GOOD.

We have to look far into the future, react to signals before they come, care for and share the resources of the earth, and moderate our numbers and desires. We have to create a culture that draws out of us not only our technical creativity, our entrepreneurial cleverness, our individualism, competitiveness, and cynicism, but also our wisdom and our goodness.

It can be done. We can be patient with ourselves and others as we all confront a changing world. We can empathize with resistance to change; there is some clinging to the ways of unsustainability within each of us. We can include everyone in the challenge; everyone will be needed. We can listen to the cynicism around us and pity those who indulge in it, but refuse to indulge in it ourselves.

The world can pass safely through the adventure of bringing itself to sustainability, only if people view themselves and others with compassion. That compassion is there, within all of us, just waiting to be used, the greatest resource of all, and one with no limits.

Donella Meadows, 1992

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