The Value(s) of Love and Generosity

11We are sometimes asked, “Why is Love not a value in your survey?” or, “Generosity is so very important to us as humans – why is it missing?”

We could never say that Love and Generosity are not profoundly central human values. Of course they are. And, “Love” is an enormous concept. It means a great many things to different people, at different times and in different situations. We love in many different ways. The ancient Greeks named many kinds of love with different words. Philia means brotherly love, the kind of love and loyalty we hold for friends, so deep that you know they would sacrifice for you, even perhaps, as the ancient Greeks recognized, to the point of death. The love of parents for their children, and of the caregivers who give so much to loved ones in need of physical care and protection, is a form of Philia also known as Storge. Eros is sexual love, the domain of the goddess Aphrodite, who can inspire mortals with irrational, passionate desire. Eros can be so strong as to overpower every other emotion when we are in its fiery grasp. Pragma is the love that has lasted the tests of time and whose essence is patience, loyalty and true compromise. Agape is the love we feel for all of humanity; which includes the love of people we do not even know. It inspires us toward compassion, charity and philanthropy. Examples of the value names we might give to some of these kinds of love are Affection, Sensuality, Loyalty, Caregiving, Patience, Kindness, Respect, Charity, Community, Altruism.  There are many others.

One of the central ways we seek to understand values is through what we call “Perspectives.” They describe a range of human states or needs –or,  archetypes if you like – that have been described in one way or another for millennia. Our Values Perspectives model gives them the following names: Grounding, Family, Management, Relational (or, Self and Other Awareness), Systems, and Expansion. The first two are relatively more “foundational;” they tend to be concerned with the physical and emotional basics of embodied human life and primary relationships. We need to be able to function physically and to care for and support ourselves and the people who are closest to us in life. The second two are generally more “focus-oriented,” meaning that they concern how we organize our lives and how we make decisions and conduct ourselves in the course of day-to-day activity. They also represent our growing edge in terms of how we each respond to our unique life situation when changes in attitude and outlook are demanded. The third set of two can be said to be more “future-oriented:” expansive in terms of scale, even visionary. They tend to represent the values that come into play when we find ourselves stepping back to take a global view. They represent an enlarging of consciousness – that nevertheless is impossible (or merely imaginary) if the foundational and focus values have not been well-attended to. Each of us tends to be energized by one of these Perspectives discernably more than the others. But none of us is limited to the values of any given Perspective. Instead, we all activate values across the spectrum, and in fact, the greater our “reach” in this respect, the better able we are likely to be to understand and communicate with others.

Like Love, there are many kinds of Generosity. It can be very helpful to keep the Perspectives in mind when thinking about how Generosity emerges as a value for different people and in different circumstances. When the foundations of life need to be served, Generosity may become apparent as values such as Caretaking, Kindness, concerning ourselves with the means for others to be secure with regard to Food and Shelter, or in the provision of Economic Security for our families and loved ones. We may be concerned with the futures of our heirs, however we may designate them, through Legacy, however we may define it or whatever means we may use to assure it. Among their other functions, the focus Perspectives enable us to extend our reach through institutions, for example extending our reach to people who may not be personally known to us through Charity. We may feel that the value of Responsibility leads us to a concern for making sure that people whose work is under our span of authority or obligation are provided with what they need to accomplish it. A growing-edge value for many of us is Trust, which allows us to feel that our gifts will be honored by appropriate use; Acceptance may allow us to step back from judgments about how our generosity is accepted – or not – by others. The expansive Perspectives contain values that are operationalized through a tolerance for ambiguity and not-knowing what the results of our efforts may be, because they will often be out of our immediate grasp. The value of Dialogue requires we hold an attitude of generosity that allows us to listen as well as speak. Service is very often impersonal, something we offer without requiring a return on investment. Altruism leads us to give on a large scale, without ego-attachment. Reconciliation requires a very deep generosity of spirit, since it often involves coming to peaceful terms with those who have offered even the gravest of past offense.

Each of us tends to hold one of the Perspectives more closely than others, meaning, simply, that it is the lens we view the world through. I may hold Family as my strongest Perspective, which in practice, we have found, means two things. I care for my Family (however I may define it) as a priority. I also tend to care for others as if they were Family. For example, anyone in the service professions is likely to be drawn to them through a Family core Perspective. Such is likely to be the case with my expressions of Generosity, for example. The other Perspectives work similarly: they tend to strongly color how we see the world and how we interpret and live our values. No Perspective is in any way superior to any other. We need them all, as individuals and collectively. They give us the full spectrum of ways to experience and benefit from the ‘larger’ human values like Love and Generosity. It can be very useful to our understanding to reflect on the many ways each of these values may be exemplified – beautifully, uniquely, and effectively – through each of the Perspectives.