Helena Clayton | Love and … choice



Love and … choice

20 Aug 2019, Posted by Helena Clayton in Work as Love in Action

It feels like the right time to be developing and expanding our understanding of love. If it’s the strong medicine that’s needed for tough times (and I think it is) and if we need a revolution based on love (I think we do) then we need to develop a deep understanding of what it means, what it looks like and how we cultivate it. It seems that our go-to understanding is that love is romantic or sexual; or we think about the traditional parsing of love through the Greek/biblical lenses of agape, a universal love for strangers or for nature or of philia – friendship.

This series of short posts explores other angles on love and this one looks at love as a choice. You can find more about this piece of research and my associated writing either on the Leading from Love page on my site, or via my Blog page.

Love as … a choice

I am invited to make many choices right now. Do I eat dairy or not? Do I bring what little I know about climate breakdown into as many conversations as possible – or carry on great swathes of my life as if it isn’t happening? Do I say yes to that piece of work that pays well but is relatively soulless or do I turn it down and protect the time for writing (unpaid) things like this?

I am also faced every day, in every moment with what the poet David Whyte describes as those ‘terrifying moments’ in which I can choose to be one thing or choose to be another. In this case, the choice to be loving or the choice not to be. Do I pick up the phone to someone who needs me even when they will take up time that I am reluctant to give them? Do I respond to a jibe from my husband with something equally unclean or do I resist? Do I offer a rough sleeper money or food? Do I give or withhold an appreciative comment to a colleague because they pissed me off last week?

Margaret Wheatley’s most recent book is called ‘Who Do You Choose to Be’? In part, this asks a high level purpose-based question about what sort of life we want to lead, what legacy we want to leave, what difference we want to make in the face of great challenges. I have already made a commitment and set an intention to be more loving and to get to know love better some years ago. That bit I’m ok on.

But it’s the in-the-moment calls to action I find difficult. In this moment, do I choose love? Will I choose love? In each moment, who do I choose to be?

Because it IS a choice. I am 100% responsible for how loving I am. I am less and less accepting of my/our ‘I can’t be loving for x reason or y reason …’ because i increasingly see that while I can’t influence a lot of what happens to me I can be 100% responsible for my reaction to that. This comes, in part, from:

  • Three Principles thinking developed by Sydney Banks whose work talks persuasively about the fact that we can’t change out thoughts but we can certainly choose what we do with those thoughts and how we let them shape and influence our feelings and our actions. ‘We live in the feeling of our thoughts’, he says.
  • The psychotherapist Erich Fromm,  Sikh activist Valarie Kaur and writer Adam Kahane who see love as ‘exclusively an act of will and commitment’, ‘a choice we make over and over again’. It’s not something that suddenly strikes us but rather an intentional disposition towards another person.
  • The Hoffman Process and its powerful work with right road/left road choices. That we are always faced with a choice of behaving as our Best Self or Higher Self would have us respond – the part of us that wants the best for us and for all others and that also knows that the accumulation of ‘right choices’ leads to very different results in our relationships and our wider lives.

These influences make sense to me. I see how often I make excuses for my own actions and how often I say I can’t when it would be more accurate to say I could but I’m not willing to. I could but that I’m not willing to … back down. I mean, I could but … it’s clear he’s a complete arse. I could but … then I’ll look as if I’m in the wrong. My list of excuses is very long.

I have been trying to choose love more often for a number of years now. And as committed as I am to it, I don’t find it easy and I don’t always make the right choice. It seems there’s a knowing-doing gap for me, a lot more often that I would like. I recently read a Forbes article that described several ways that we can bring loving leadership to our work. These include wonderful suggestions such as show appreciation, offer encouragement, be a listening ear, offer support, coach rather than criticize, ask how they’re doing and really mean it.

These are spot on, obviously. It’s not hard to come up with a list like this and I reckon I do these a lot. But it’s sometimes hard for me actually do them. And I’m interested in the times when I make a choice to do the opposite or make a choice to do nothing.

My next post will Part 2 of this one and explores what blocks me (and others) from accessing and acting from love.

For leadership and organisations:

  • What difference might it make to your own leadership if you tried ‘choosing love‘ as a personal experiment, journaling about what you did and what you noticed?
  • What would it be like if all of your team experimented with choosing a loving response more often? And then shared what happened when they did.
  • And how would it be to open up a conversation in your team about what difference more loving choices might mean for the organisation

You can find other posts in this series on my blog page or in Activity on LinkedIn, subscribe to my monthly-ish Newsletters.  Or via Twitter using @HelenaClayton



  • Walt Hopkins

    My first choice was to read this blog–instead of getting back to what I was doing before an interruption led to finding your blog. John Ciardi says that interruptions are the spice of life so I’m treating this one that way. Already today, I know of a moment I chose love and another moment when I did not. Fifty-fifty is not bad–and I can do better if I stay alert to the choice. Thanks!

    • Helena Clayton

      Thanks Walt, and I’m pleased that the interruption lead you to read the post 🙂


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