My colleague Andrew Lyon and I were pleased to be able to host our friend and fellow IFF member Adam Kahane on a brief visit to Scotland this month. Adam was speaking about his new book Power and Love: a theory and practice of social change. He spoke in the international seminar series Andrew organises for the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and at a smaller dialogue session at IFF's home, The Boathouse in Aberdour.
The GCPH lecture will appear on their site in due course. So for the meantime I recommend the video of Adam's talk this month at the RSA in London as the best introduction to `Power and Love'.
The thesis is both powerful and timeless. Adam quotes Martin Luther King Jr in his last Presidential address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967: `Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic..... This collision of immoral power with powerless morality constitutes the major crisis of our time.' We must clearly seek a creative, a generative balance.
Adam explores the two sides of power (generative like a seed, degenerative like a boot) and the two sides of love (generative like a mother, degenerative like a lovesick teenager). Love is what makes power generative. Power is what makes love generative.
Through the book Adam invites us to revisit with him his experience in a variety of projects in which he can now see that power and love were not in harmony. He has sections on `falling' projects that failed to deliver their potential, 'stumbling' projects that started to work, and finally `walking' projects that hold great promise today - like the Sustainable Food Lab. The book is thus the result of an extended learning journey - which I know from conversations after one of the `falling' projects has been both profound and heartfelt.
Adam takes Paul Tillich's definitions as offering compelling `explanatory power' (King studied Tillich for his doctorate, especially his book Love, Power and Justice). Tillich defines power as `the drive of everything living to realise itself, with increasing intensity and extensity', while love is `the drive towards the unity of the separated'.
These are two penetrating lenses through which to view the world - especially the world that brings diverse groups together to address complex social challenges. Just convening such a group is already a `love move', driving toward the unity of the separated. Adam's previous book, Solving Tough Problems, is full of breakthrough moments brought about in such groups through the simple (but rare) device of self-revealing talking and empathic listening. He quotes Carl Rogers: `what is most personal is most universal'.
But he has seen how such groups can lack power: `love without power is endemic in the dialogue movement'. That can be frustrating at best and dangerous at worst - the drive towards self-realisation `with increasing intensity and extensity' is present even if denied, and can be consciously or unconsciously concealed (and therefore abused).
In the book Adam quotes the psychologist James Hillman on the way in which power is acknowledged in business and politics as `a daily companion' which is in no way `the enemy of love'. But in more idealistic professions - medicine, the arts, teaching, clergy - power corrupts because it is seen in romantic opposition to love. `The corruption begins not in power, but in ignorance about it.'
And so we must progress always in the conscious knowledge of the two drives. And rather than trim one or other back to get them in balance, we should all work on our `weaker drive' in order to maximise the potential of both. Adam likens this to walking on two legs - first one, then the other.... never veering too far from the narrow path we must all tread between reckless and abusive power and sentimental and anemic love.
This is not easy. It is like Charles Hampden-Turner's `dilemma dance' between the rock and the whirlpool. And as Tony Hodgson pointed out in our Boathouse discussion, really wrestling with a dilemma is like riding a bull - both horns have to be experienced with great intensity.
This is a great little book, and Adam a warm embodiment of its message. He has done a great service to those of us who have struggled to have the love word taken seriously in policy circles - this book roots the term both in the unassailable context of Adam's successful and ambitious practice and, through the timely connection with Martin Luther King Jr., in its yin/yang relationship with the much more familiar term power.
It chimes with IFF's earlier work on the balance between love and fear, between `knowing through gaining control' and `knowing through participation', and the processes and emotions that drive us from one to the other.
Adam looks for social processes that balance both modes. `The movement from power to love enables actors to see more clearly the system that they are a part of and their role in it.... The second movement, from love to power, involves supporting actors to undertake individual and collective actions - arising out of and remaining in connection with their co-sensing of the whole system - to shift that system'.
As he says, this framing has great explanatory power. It encourages us all to keep practising in order to gain the `fluid unconscious competence' required to walk instinctively, in the moment, on both legs - judging `timing, tact and titration' (to quote our friend Neville Singh) for both power and love moves. And the definition of love as the drive to unify the separated likewise encourages us to believe that in dealing with tricky social problems there is always a bigger unity to be discovered than the one that has us stuck.