On Love & Justice: A Valentine's Day Reflection

We don’t talk about our hearts nearly enough in international aid and philanthropy. But this Valentine’s Day seems like a good time to do so. Our hearts draw us to this work, and if we keep them open enough, they are what tie us to this work when the frustrations and obstacles seem insurmountable.

A community leader and member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, Frank LaMere, met with a group of us white kids in college who wanted to learn more about life on the “res.” I wrote down something he said that day:

When you are guided by your heart, there is little you can do wrong when dealing with change. ~Frank LaMere

This is not something they tell you within academic studies or job descriptions. But it’s vital.

This excerpt from the introduction of “The Love That Does Justice: Spiritual Activism in Dialogue With Soc...,” edited By Michael A. Edwards & Stephen G. Post, is a great meditation for our hearts on this Valentine’s Day. It's about how justice is implicit in love, and how seeking justice is the expression of love.

Doing unto others” require[s] the irreplaceable face-to-face interpersonal works of love, but it also requires the courage to confront larger, systemic unfairness. However much “random acts of kindness” can inspire, however much compassionate actions are trumpeted as “a thousand points of light,” these invaluable works of love must not deflect attention away from the underlying problematic of injustice—the entrenched group selfishness that is blind to the common good.  Love that does not “descend” into the struggle for justice is incomplete, if not irrelevant. Engaged spirituality, therefore, explicitly confronts social, political, and economic structures that are deemed unjust and contributory to the suffering of some needful group.  Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Heschel, and Bishop Desmond Tutu are obvious examples.  Their moral appeal is to human dignity and human rights, and their endeavor is to effect structural change. The psychological dynamic involved in these efforts requires the persistent confrontation of entrenched powers that are recalcitrant to change.

In this sense, love is radical equality consciousness, a force that breaks down all distance and hierarchy. This is a love that respects the necessary self-empowerment of others, eschewing paternalism and romanticism for relationships of truth and authenticity, even when they move through phases of conflict and disagreement, as all do. This is a love that encourages us to live up to our social obligations as well our individual moral values, connect our interior life worlds to public spaces, encourage collective judgments, and create open networks of self-re?ective and critical communication.

This love is active, not passive, explicitly considering the effects of oppressive and exploitative systems and structures on the welfare of others; it is not just focused on the immediate circle of family and friends, but rather on a deep and abiding commitment to the liberation of all. This is a love that seeks not to accumulate power, even in the face of oppression, but to transform it so that “victory” means more than a game of revolving chairs among narrow political interests.

This love forms an essential counterbalance to an excess of reason, adding in the discrimination, humility, intuition, ethical commitments, and emotional intelligence that are essential ingredients of wisdom. This love helps us to understand when and how to uphold and apply rationality, even in the toughest of circumstances, by increasing self-awareness of our biases, prejudices, and blind spots, and sustaining our objectivity about our own strengths and shortcomings. Love releases us from fear and insecurity, and our diminished sense of self. Love gives us optimism and hope, an expansion rather than contraction of our critical faculties, openness instead of closure.

Love does not generate ready-made answers to deep rooted and intractable problems of economic and social life, codified according to the conventional logics of Left or Right, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. Instead, it provides a different set of motivations from which alternatives can grow, eventually producing a “social science of love” that can demonstrate how politics, economics, organizational development, social and international relations can be transformed through this radically-different form of rationality. The key to social transformation can be found in marrying a rich inner life dedicated to the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion with the practice of new forms of politics, economics, and public policy.


This post originally appeared at: http://www.how-matters.org/2012/02/14/on-love-and-justice/


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Comment by Vaughn John on February 15, 2012 at 4:15am

Jennifer, your post reminded me of this statement by Paulo Freire:


Affectivity is not necessarily an enemy of knowledge or of the process of knowing. (Pedagogy of Freedom, Freire 1998, p.125)

Comment by Jennifer Lentfer on February 14, 2012 at 12:59pm

Thanks for your comment and encouragement @Hope. And how wonderful that you bring food into the discussion. You might also appreciate this post: http://www.how-matters.org/2011/10/16/the-value-of-feasting/

Comment by Hope Tichaenzana Chichaya on February 14, 2012 at 12:04pm


I absolutely agree with your assertions and argument. Thanks for that reminder anyway. Some even goes on to say that 'love' is the way even towards creating 'a new "we"'. This "we" is characterised by not just inclusiveness but more importantly, 'communion' and thus eating together. The Rwandese proverb put it that, "If you can't hear the mouth eating, then you can not hear the mouth crying". Equally important to this is your article and related posts in that the motivations behing our so-called 'justice' work is just but love.


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