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3 January 2023

The Genius of Love in Action

Written by
Carolyn Coughlin

When I think of my various identities—as in how I make sense of myself, who I imagine myself to be—“writer” isn’t one of them. My body likes to be in motion, doesn’t easily sit still, and it turns out that writing isn’t all that compatible with this particular sort of energetic disposition. And yet, my head and my heart are regularly bursting with ideas, many of which find their way into practice but do not find their way onto the page. So it was such a thrill when my dear friend, Jennifer, suggested it was time for some of the ideas and practices that I had come to refer to as Complexity Fitness, ideas that had both shaped and been profoundly shaped by years of collaboration with my colleagues inside and outside of Cultivating Leadership as well as by our amazing clients, to find their way into the written word. Given that this book (Unleash Your Complexity Genius,) was born out of friendship, collaboration and generosity, it seems entirely appropriate to me that I begin 2023 by writing about the most distinctly human of all the geniuses.1 The Genius of Love.

So why is Loving a genius in the first place? Because when things are complex—meaning that the conditions are such that prediction and control isn’t possible—no individual can thrive on its own as much as it can thrive in connection with others and with the ecosystem itself. Trees are a great example of this. Recent research shows us that the individual trees we admire when walking through a forest are not as individual as they appear. Not only does the shade from one tree help determine the growth potential of another, it turns out trees are integrally connected underground, and there’s increasing evidence that they actually communicate with one another. Typical of complex systems, any change—large or small–to a tree in one place can affect a tree (or another living member of the ecosystem) in a far off and totally unexpected place. But still…why are we talking about “love” and not simply “connection?” My answer to that question is …”why not?” Loving is what makes our lives rich. We are born to love one another. I’m not talking about romantic love or even adoration (although those are also nice things); I’m talking about the kind of love that’s defined by a deep caring for another person as a full human. Seeing and honoring them for who they are in all their glory and their flaws. Not for what they can do for us or even who they are being in this moment, but for who they are across the many contexts of their lives.

So, as 2022 draws to a close, I thought I’d take a moment to chronicle some of the ways I deliberately tapped into and amplified love in my life this year and what that has enabled. Perhaps it will spark something in you —-a commitment to amplify love in your own life, a heightened awareness of the seeds of love that already live in you, a way of seeing the seemingly mundane day to day events of your life through the lens of love. And to make a plan for how you might amplify these in the new year.

I started 2022 with an act of love for myself and, by extension, for those closest to me. By the end of 2021 I was exhausted. It had been the most active work year of my life, and while I was grateful for all the amazing opportunities, I also knew this was not a pace I wanted to continue. So with the help and wisdom of my friend, Fred Jones, who has been doing research and design around creative ways to take sabbaticals, I committed to taking one week of sabbatical per month from January through June. This wasn’t a move to go part time, but rather to see what would happen if I gave myself the gift of regular time without a full calendar. Part of my hope in doing this was simple—rest and rejuvenation. But the biggest gift I got was the ability to connect to those around me more fully. And not only with the usual suspects like my family and geographically proximate friends. The unfilled days enabled me to take slow walks, stopping to talk with my neighbors, to say hello to a stranger without feeling that the small detour would throw my schedule into hopeless disarray. I had time to reconnect with old friends with whom I hadn’t spoken in years, to share silly laughter and deep conversation. This gift of time was an offer of both compassion and nourishment for my innate Genius for Loving that had been in danger of atrophy in the face of neglect.

2022 also became the year when I created and tried on a new organizing principle for my life. Instead of “work and responsibility first,” which had long been my guiding rule, I adopted “love and delight first.” I started asking a question inspired by my dear friend, Judy King …”in whose company do I most love the person I am? Who really sees me, loves me fully for who I am, as a whole person with flaws and delights and everything in between?” I encourage you to ask this question, too. And then find ways to be in these people’s presence. Seek them out, tell them how important they are to you, see them fully, laugh with them, cry with them, be silly and serious with them. To Jim, to Becky, Abby, and David, (and all your wacky amazing friends), to Michael and Angie and family, to Aunt Carol, Uncle John, Aunt Laurie, Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom, to Judy and all my wacky Lake friends, to Patrice, Beth, Anna (and the whole CLANZ crowd), to Becky, Kristen, Lynn, Colleen, and Sue; to all the Peylouberians, treasured colleagues and countless others. I am so blessed to have spent actual in person time with you in 2022. Each moment I spent in your presence and the countless other times you were figuratively sitting on my shoulder offering whatever form of love I needed at that moment, thank you. I love you.

This morning (after a late night of friends and laughter) I woke up to a New York Times article that opened with the line: “For over 80 years, researchers at Harvard have studied what makes for a good life. They found one surefire, scientifically proven predictor of happiness: developing warmer relationships.”2 This 80-year finding is probably common sense to most of you. And yet, the simple finding can only become your reality through a bit of intention and action. So what’s my plan for 2023? More love and connection, more saying “yes” to things that create the conditions for them. Most of these will be small moves: taking the time to say hello to a stranger or to consciously see the miraculous humanity in someone whose opinions I don’t share; spending time with loved ones near and far; generally amplifying the feeling of love that lives naturally within me.

How will you tap into your Genius of Love this year? Spread some love by sharing it here!

1Genius—from the Latin meaning “attendant spirit present from one’s birth, innate ability or inclination.”
2New York times, Jan 1, 2023, “A Happier New Year”, by Lauren Jackson

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