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All You Need Is Love . . . And Power and Mindfulness

In the last two posts we’ve discussed two important ways we “move” or respond in our relationships: power and mindfulness (or knowing).  The ‘power” response describes our ability to use our personal agency to take forward action. In the mindfulness response we step away from the situation in order to focus on “knowing” about the situation rather than reacting to it.  There is a third movement or dimension called the heart dimension, or you can think of it as “love.”  In the third response, heart or love, we show respect and regard for the other person involved in a situation. Like power and mindfulness, the heart dimension can operate not only in the positive zone (as described above) but also in the negative zone as well. My recent trip to India illustrates this well.

I was recently working with a tech company in India facilitating a workshop on emotional intelligence. The workshop was a huge success, but one of the trip’s most memorable events happened during a cab ride. My driver was a member of the Sikh religion, which originated in the Punjab region of India at the end of the 15th century. My driver said something very insightful. He said that the Indian people historically had too much “heart”—his word—so that outside groups like the Mughal, and later the British, just ran them over. It was out of this imbalance (too much love and not enough power) that the Sikhs emerged. They valued heart but were not afraid to be strong either. By all accounts, they were fierce warriors who fought back when they needed to. And as a result of their aggression, they were able to carve out a safe space for themselves where they could live—and yes—love. I was interested to find out that Sikhs are mostly vegetarian and will eat flesh from animals only if it is absolutely necessary for food. Even then, if they must kill their prey, they do it quickly and mercifully “with one stroke.” In doing this they do not put their benefactor through any more pain than necessary—a concept that today’s meat and poultry industries would do well to take on board.

There are few who would speak badly of “love,” and its byproducts compassion and empathy. After all, love moves us to take care others. It moves us to respect and value our staff, and—if we’re employees—to work hard for those we work for even when we aren’t being observed. Love gets up in the middle of the night for a sick child, moves politicians to makes policies that take care of the less-fortunate in society, and lets not forget romantic love. But left unchecked, love can lead us to be taken advantage of by the less loving people in our lives. Bosses disrespect their employees, employees take advantage of their managers, children manipulate their parents, people who aren’t in need play the government assistance system to get free hand-outs, politicians cater to special interest groups; and let’s not forget how many of us get into dysfunctional “romantic” relationships where we are controlled or even abused.

The idea that “love is all you need” is not only fundamentally flawed, it can be dangerous. Just ask the Indian people, who were oppressed for centuries by outside forces—by nasty bosses, by spoiled children, by moochers, by self-serving politicians and by controlling spouses. Love has to be integrated with personal power and agency. It has to be counterbalanced by self-respect, by good boundaries and by appropriate assertiveness. Otherwise it will be overrun by the many Mughals in our lives.

As our conversation continued, my Sikh friend and I discussed the idea of Sat Nam. Sat Nam is a mantra that conveys something like, “truth . . . not facts or data but truth.” It is a truth that comes from deep awareness of what “is as it is.” And like wisdom, this kind of truth guides us in complex relationships so that we know when to be vulnerable (exercise love) and when to protect ourselves (exercise power). It informs us when to forgive our enemy (exercise love) and when to become activists (exercise power)—and when to exercise both (think Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King).

So to a degree, the Beatles were correct . . . “all we need is love” . . . as long as we also have positive personal power and truth-driven awareness and mindfulness. When love is protected by personal agency and measured by Sat Nam—wisdom and truth—then, and only then, is love powerful, true and good.