What is true love? Can it even be defined? Our idea of what love today most likely comes from a fairytale, movie, or reality TV show, and the definition has likely changed many times. But we all have certain conditions attached to our idea of what love is, or some sort of criteria drawn up for what loving relationships with our family, friends, romantic involvements, and even at work should look like.
Altruistic love, along with mindfulness, is the centerpiece for both personal and organizational spiritual leadership and is practiced in all arenas of life as all relationships have personal and organizational components. It is defined as a sense of wholeness harmony and well-being produced through care, concern, and appreciation of self and others. As such it is a verb that is grounded in both the Eastern and Western spiritual and religious traditions. But as a verb, what does a love such as this look like and, in particular, how is it operationalized and lived at work?
One view of this comes from the Buddhist tradition and is succinctly explained by Thích Nhất Hạnh, who is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He lives in Plum Village in the Dordogne region in the south of France, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. According to him:
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”
“True love is capable of generating joy for yourself and for the other person.”
Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to further explain. If there is love/kindness, compassion, joy, and inclusiveness you are experiencing true love.
- Love and kindness have the power to create happiness. When you are able to develop feelings of joy and happiness in yourself, that’s true love, offered to yourself. If you can generate these feelings, and help the other person generate these feelings, that’s true love. So, if you are a source of joy and happiness for another that is true love.
- True love is the capacity to make yourself suffer less, and help the other person suffer less. “There is an art of suffering. If you know how to suffer, you suffer much, much less.”
- Practice compassion and it will grow.
- If love does not generate joy, it’s not love. If love makes the other person cry every day, it’s not love.
Basically these fundamental tenets of the Buddhist tradition are incorporated into spiritual leadership through the values inherent in altruistic love. Thus living these values will result in a form of “true” love that transcends people, places, and circumstances.