Friday, October 28, 2011

Operate from Love

This evening, I paused from the tyrannies of a never quite completed “to do” list, and a never quite empty “priority email inbox” to continue hanging more pictures, news-stories, and other artifacts that chronicle a long life. Among them was the obituary of “Scientist, Writer Donella Meadows,” who died on February 20, 2001. Dana was one of my mentors, as well as a collaborator. Along with Jay Forrester, Herbert Simon, my mother and father, my US Navy Captain, E.W. Ostlund, my global modeling mentor/collaborator Mike Mesarovic and a few others, her picture, taken not long before she died, has a place in the “mentors gallery” that I created to share with students during my years as Director of Doctoral Studies and then with faculty that I mentored during the years I directed American University’s Center For Teaching Excellence. Tonight, however, I found a picture of a younger Dana Meadows, taken at about the time we were working most closely together. As such pictures do it brought back many joyful memories – and the anguish of opportunities lost.

When I sat down at my computer, viewing Dana’s picture prompted me to look back through my files of her writings and correspondence. My search came to rest on the following passage. It is an important message to a troubled world from the conclusion of her coauthored book, Beyond the Limits, published in 1992.

It begins with the imperative, “Operate from Love” and continues….

One is not allowed to say that in public any more. Anyone who calls upon the human capacity for brotherly and sisterly love, generosity, compassion, will be met with a hail of cynicism. Once when I tried to do so, a high government official stood up to say, "Of all scarce resources, love is the scarcest."

I just don't believe that. Love is not a scarce resource, it is an untapped one. Our jazzed-up, hustling, quantitative culture does not know how to tap it, how to discuss it, or even what it means.

I am a child of that culture, and worse, a scientifically trained one. I have been educated to trust in practicality, not in love. But I have also been trained to see whole systems, and the more I do that, the more I see that practicality and love are in fact the same thing. What is love, but the ability to identify with someone or something beyond your own skin? Love is the expansion of boundaries, the realization that another person, or family, or piece of land, or nation, or the whole earth is so intimately connected to you that your welfare and his, her, or its welfare are one and the same.

In truth, of course, we are all intimately interconnected with each other and with the earth. We have always been. Love has always been a practical idea, as well as a moral one. Now it is not only practical but urgent. It is time to accept the astonishing notion that to be rational, to ensure our own preservation, much less that of nature and of future generations, what is required of us is to be GOOD. We have to look far into the future, react to signals before they come, care for and share the resources of the earth, and moderate our numbers and desires. We have to create a culture that draws out of us not only our technical creativity, our entrepreneurial cleverness, our individualism, competitiveness, and cynicism, but also our wisdom and our goodness.

It can be done. We can be patient with ourselves and others as we all confront a changing world. We can empathize with resistance to change; there is some clinging to the ways of unsustainability within each of us. We can include everyone in the challenge; everyone will be needed. We can listen to the cynicism around us and pity those who indulge in it, but refuse to indulge in it ourselves.

The world can pass safely through the adventure of bringing itself to sustainability only if people view themselves and others with compassion. That compassion is there, within all of us, just waiting to be used, the greatest resource of all, and one with no limits.

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