Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ursula King

The Power of Love and Compassion in Governance
Ursula King 
Professor Emerita of Theology and Religious Studies and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies; University of Bristol, UK.; Member of the Advisory Board for the Spirit of Humanity Forum

Love is the free and imaginative outpouring of the spirit over all unexplored paths.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man

Discussions about governance can take place at many different levels; they encompass a wide range of dimensions, processes and projects. It is vital to reflect on the essential elements required for good and fair governance in all human groups, at all levels, from small and private to larger public and corporate organisations to global institutions with immense influence and power. To be effective and have an impact on the human community, these reflections must be rooted in participatory and collaborative dialogue since they have a decisive impact on the dynamics of the future, on what Thomas Berry called “reinventing the human” and “the great work” required to find our way into the future.

Central to this is “the way of love” or the “power of love” which often finds practical expression through acts of compassion addressed to our fellow humans and all living beings. Love and compassion are deep energies within human beings, affecting many activities and experiences in personal and social life.  Love is a great power that has deeply moulded human cultures from religion to the arts, philosophy, psychology, politics and countless other aspects of human behaviour. Love is a universally active, creative potential that provides a strong binding force for the various types of human groupings, whether family, clan, tribe, state, nation, or a global commonwealth, and it thus creates a firm basis for social coherence and for just governance. We also speak about the love of knowledge, the love for our work, the love of nature. Love is a universal concept that relates to many different experiences; it involves the idea of relating to each other, of bringing together and integrating different aspects into a larger whole.

Given the complexities of our global world it is no longer enough to simply describe and compare love and compassion. We need to make greater creative and innovative use of their powers by “seeding” their energies, by bringing about a new awakening that will stir and change human beings and creatively transform their modes of governance by motivating them to work for a viable future for planet Earth and all its people.
I call ideas about the extraordinary transformative powers of love and compassion “pneumatophores”. Let me explain. Pneumatophore is a term from the plant kingdom referring to the air roots of plants growing in swampy waters. Such roots are literally carriers of pneuma, of air or spirit. I use this word metaphorically to point to those transformative, empowering ideas that can serve as bearers of spirit and channels for new life of individuals and communities today. Within the secularity of modern society we need many such pneumatophores: ideas that are vibrant bearers of spirit, ideas that can literally “inspire” and guide us to generate new life. Such ideas may be drawn from traditional religions, secular society, the sciences or the arts; they may arise from the sacred or the secular, from national, transnational or global contexts – it does not matter where they come from as long as they lead us to a heightened awareness and sensibility, a sense of global responsibility, and a new kind of spiritual literacy that can help people to live a life of dignity on the planet without destroying the life-support system of the earth or killing each other.

A striking example of a powerful pneumatophore is the remarkable idea about the great capacity of “love energy” for the transformation of people and planet found in the writings of several contemporaries. Given the extraordinary critical situation we are in, it seems imperative to reflect on what love and compassion is, and what difference they can make to our world and our lives.  Since so many efforts in exercising love and charity have so dismally failed, the question arises whether we need an altogether different kind of love.

Two twentieth century thinkers have pursued this question with extraordinary determination and power: the French Jesuit scientist and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) and the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968). Unknown to each other, they both developed a most inspiring, insightful and deeply transformative vision of the energies of love and their immense potential for the transformation of humanity if we but can awaken to the universal powers of these energies within us at a global level. Awakening the spirit of humanity must mean the awakening of and further development of all the energies of love the human species is capable of. It is impossible to discuss this in any detail here, but I can perhaps convey something of the overall appeal of these ideas from these two thinkers.

Teilhard criticised the traditional concept of love as too static, too “spiritualised”, too divorced from its cosmic roots, from natural passion in which all love, including the love of God, has its starting point. He spoke of “the transformation of love” whereby love itself is undergoing a change of state, which we have to study as systematically as any other aspect of the human phenomenon, for love not only makes possible and deepens personal development, but it is equally necessary for the development of society. He said that “with love omitted there is truly nothing ahead of us except the forbidding prospect of standardisation and enslavement - the doom of ants and termites. It is through love and within love that we must look for the deepening of our deepest self, in the life-giving coming together of humankind.”

As he wrote in his great book The Human Phenomenon: “Humanity, the spirit of the Earth, the synthesis of the individual and peoples, the paradoxical reconciliation of …unity and multitude – for all these things, said to be so utopian, yet which are so biologically necessary, to actually take shape in the world, is not all we need to do, to imagine that our power of loving develops until it embraces the totality of men and women and of the Earth?”

Pitirim A. Sorokin shares a similar vision about the transformative powers of creative love in his great work The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation. Not unlike Teilhard, he writes that “we know about ‘love energy’ much less than about light, heat, electricity, and other forms of physical energy”. He maintains that “Unselfish love has enormous creative and therapeutic potentialities, far greater than most people think. Love is a life-giving force, necessary for physical, mental, and moral health.” It is the universality of love for all which is essential, for “only the power of unbounded love practiced in regard to all human beings can defeat the forces of interhuman strife, and can prevent the pending extermination of man by man on this planet.”

Sorokin’s discussion of the “production, accumulation and distribution of love energy” is very challenging. Viewing love “as one of the highest energies known”, he rightly points out that the generation of love has been given “little thought, time and effort” in practically all societies; “it still remains in the most rudimentary form, corresponding to the primitive manual technology of material production in preliterate tribes.” Until now little effort has been made in the human community to produce love deliberately beyond what is produced “naturally”. Just as Teilhard de Chardin was interested in “the technicians and engineers of the spirit” to calculate and attend to our “spiritual energy resources”, Sorokin speaks of the “inventors and engineers of love production” who have helped to produce love in groups or in humanity at large, but this has happened spontaneously and haphazardly rather than deliberately. This shows an astounding lack of organized effort, and this neglect threatens the very future of humanity. So far, the family has been one of the most efficient agencies in producing altruistic love, but this love has to be extended beyond the family “for the human ‘world market’.” Such an extension of love can initially begin through an extension of existing “networks of love”, but the more arduous task of the “solidarization of humanity” requires conscious scientific efforts, a great deal of scientific research, and new techniques of altruistic education.

Much more would need to be said to convey the full impact of these ideas on the transformative powers of love as developed by these two twentieth century scientists (with Sorokin mainly drawing on the social sciences, and Teilhard on the earth sciences and human origins). Both thinkers were great prophetic visionaries, much misunderstood by their contemporaries. Both experienced the vital dynamic of love with such force that traditional concepts could not contain their ideas. They forged their own vocabulary, at times difficult to grasp, yet indicative of the newness of what they had to say. Both shared a deep existential sense of the torrent of love energy in the world – unchannelled, unstudied, unused, but there to be harnessed for the most powerful spiritual transformation of people and planet. To make creative, active use of this most tremendous of all resources, Teilhard de Chardin spoke of the urgent need for greater “amorisation” and for a science of “human energetics”, whereas Sorokin captured the same idea by speaking of the process of “altruization” and of a new science of “amitology”.

These are abstract ideas, but they may help us to trace the “way of love” more clearly, affirm it more strongly, and walk it more courageously, so that it may become a much more solidly sustaining and permanent foundation for all human lives. I think these “seeding ideas” or what I have called “pneumatophores” can contribute something vital to discussions about love and  compassion needed in all forms of governance to inspire, nurture and sustain the universal spirit of humanity so much needed in the evolutionary development of the human species in the twenty-first century.


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