Love was central to the gospels of Jesus the Christ. St. Paul wrote about it at length in a letter to the Corinthians. He called it charity, which suggests that where there is no love, charity can sink into condescension.
Preachers for centuries have scolded their congregations about the grim necessity to love, and often as not they have sounded rather rhetorical, unrealistic. Even when Henry Kissinger said at the funeral of Nelson Rockefeller that the most important thing in life is love, he was unconvincing. It was an elegant observation for a stately occasion, but truly, weren’t these two men deeply immersed in the tough world of government? Weren’t they made of sterner stuff?
Then I heard Lucy Billingsley, developer of One Arts Plaza in downtown Dallas, echo Henry Kissinger on a television program that I host here on KERA. “The most powerful force in the world,” she said, “is love… inner peace is generated from love.” I had to take notice. Lucy Billingsley is a strong-minded businesswoman not known for sentimentality, which I define as feeling without the obligation of action. Moreover, she was speaking on a show about CEOs. There was no need to go beyond the language of the marketplace.
Not long after that, Rosemary Perlmeter showed me through her remarkable Williams Preparatory School, near Southwestern Medical Center. It’s the latest effort of Uplift Education, which she runs. This is an independent group of charter schools that are drenched in miraculous achievement. “You cannot have rigor,” she explained, “without relationship.” When the fun disappears and learning grows strenuous, kids will leave and return to the easy environment they had before unless there is a tie to a teacher that keeps them trying. It is that kind of love that elicits a maximum effort.
The point was reinforced, unexpectedly, when I spoke with a friend at a think tank who was distraught because a close friend was leaving. Another had moved across the country two years before to run a college. What she was suffering was the loss of love, which is always devastating, no matter what form it takes. Just as in school, it is the casual comradeship of the office that makes organizations bearable and hard work rewarding.
The angst of romantic love, unrequited, is readily recognized. It fuels our literature, theatre and films. What we too seldom see is how critical to the psyche is the kind of love Virginia Woolf wrote about, a “love meant to be spread over the world and become part of the human gain.” Not that’s something worth putting your life to. And what it requires is emotional discipline, mental strength, consistency, persistence and follow- through. It’s not difficult to know the right thing to do. The difficulty comes in remembering to take the time to do it.