The feminist scholar and cultural critic, bell hooks in her book All About Love: New Visions (2000) tells us that, “when we work with love we renew the spirit; that renewal is an act of self-love, it nurtures our growth.” Many people don’t see love and work as compatible, but hooks insists, “I was convinced that I would work better in a work environment shaped by an ethic of love.”
What would our offices, departments, schools, construction sites, salons, restaurants, and other workplaces look and feel like if they were shaped by an ethic of love? Why is it important to lead with love, especially right now and during other times of crisis? How do we lead with love and what does that look like in our relationships with others? How do we lead with love in a virtual environment during a global health crisis?
Right now it’s more critical than ever that we meet each other with love. We are living through an unprecedented crisis that has severed some of the most important social and intimate connections that we depend on for coping and making meaning. Many people are unemployed. Some are frontline and essential workers who are putting themselves at risk every day. Others are working and parenting from home while caring for sick family members – or might even be sick themselves. When we interact with someone on the phone, through text, or online, we don’t always know what burden they are carrying. We don’t know the psychological effects of social distancing and the ways it might affect each individual differently. We are experiencing a generational traumatic event, with death tolls rising every day and pictures of refrigerated trucks storing corpses behind hospitals on the evening news. This takes a toll on us. Now as the curve starts to flatten and we hopefully move to other side of this crisis, we should reflect on the ways we met or failed to meet ourselves and others with love.
As the cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey were multiplying every day and our healthcare system was being pushed to its limits, I thought about all the people who were sick or would become sick and those who would be affected by the coronavirus either directly or indirectly. I thought about the new demands placed upon working parents, myself included, at home with two toddlers. And finally, I reflected on our obligation to meet one another with compassion, understanding, empathy and love during this time. I once read a definition of love that has been attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, which is “the genuine willing of good for another.” I think our world – and our workplaces – need people who lead others guided by love in this way. We can’t let bitterness and resentment consume our relationships, especially during stressful times. If love lives in our relationships, we must cultivate its growth with intention, care, and good will.
For those of us who are privileged enough to work from home, how are we creating a loving work environment? for ourselves? our colleagues? our families? our children? Today’s work environment extends beyond the limits of the office building and into our living rooms. It becomes more crucial than ever to bring an ethic of love to our work environment because that space, for many of us, is our home. Turning to bell hooks again, she insists, “when we work with love we create a loving working environment…Bringing love into the work environment can create the necessary transformation that can make any job we do, no matter how menial, a place where workers can express the best of themselves.” When we bring love into the working environment, we are actively disrupting many of the institutional norms that dictate workplace culture. This is a healthy and necessary form of disruption that pushes against hyper-capitalism and other forms of hegemony that put profits and productivity over people’s humanity.
To lead with love is to treat ourselves and one another with dignity. It requires the recognition that we are all struggling and suffering in our own ways but that we possess some fundamental decency that gives us value. It also necessitates that we turn increasingly inward for our sources of nourishment, creativity, inspiration, and hope. When we think about how to continue loving through quarantine and social distancing, bell hooks tells us that, “knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” If we can turn to ourselves with love and care in this time of isolation, we are more likely to look outwards upon others through the prism of love.