Helena Clayton | Love and sacrifice



Love and sacrifice

06 Jan 2021, Posted by Helena Clayton in Work as Love in Action

Exploring love and sacrifice …

If asked, I imagine that you might define or describe love as being about others – meeting the needs of others, putting others first.  I’ve written before about love being a form of expansion, a reaching out to and for others.

It was certainly a theme in my 2019 research into love and leadership, the idea of love as generosity – the idea of giving to others in some way.

And in that research was another theme – an extension where we moved from generosity into sacrifice.  The idea that love is about going without something yourself in order that someone else might have it, or passing up on what you might want or need so that you could be in service to someone else’s needs or priority.

But how far do we go?   Where is our edge?  For example:

What does it take for us to give something up that we long for, or feel we want, need or must have. I mean it has to be those sort of words, doesn’t it – the language of longing or feelings of entitlement – because it’s no sacrifice to give up something that we feel lukewarm about wanting, something we could take or leave, something that doesn’t matter all that much to us. Does something feel more like love if it involves me giving up someone I really wanted?

And then I go upstream in my thinking. I wonder if that’s made easier – and if it would result in more generosity – if we let go of strong attachment to our wants and needs, or developed less attachment to them in the first place. In which case we can afford to let others have what they want or need because we don’t have a strong compulsion for that thing.  The philosopher Krishnamurti is said to have lived by the mantra ‘I really don’t mind what happens’.   I’ve been practicing with that myself, these last few months, as someone who seems to really care what happens 😊  How might wanting fewer things to be a certain way  – of letting go of the need to have things myself – result in greater generosity to others?

And this giving up of things that we think belong to us, that feel like our right or entitlement – it’s a tough one. The writer, exploring the idea of allyship in the context of race, is fully supportive of White people who educate themselves in the experience of being Black.  But, she say, if we’re ever to end up with a level playing field, then it will require people with privilege to give up some of that privilege.  To let go of what they feel is theirs and make space for others by sacrificing what they have.  And the author really doesn’t trust people can  …. Love is generally not seen as a zero sum game.  But in organisations, when it comes to the numbers of people in senior roles, for example, it kind of is.  When it comes to your privilege, what are you willing to give up so that someone else can have some of it?

Another version of this that challenges me comes from the US psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan. He suggests that love is ‘when the happiness, security and well-being of another person is as real or more real to you than your own’. Oh.  Who does he mean by ‘another person’?  I’m thinking of my husband, or friends and family. Sure. I can maybe manage that on a good day.   But I have a feeling he means more like ‘the guy who runs my corner shop’ or ‘the people who live in Fowey’ or the ‘families who live on flood plans in east Africa’. Erich Fromm has said that it’s not really love to extend ourselves for family or friends.  That’s a no-brainer.  It’s love for the stranger that makes it love.  And ‘more real to you’.    That feels like a lifetime’s work. And is what the Buddhist Metta Bhavana meditation practice is inviting us to cultivate when we wish strangers and people we have a difficult relationship with to be happy, healthy and live with ease.

For me, there’s something really important in all of this.  As we enter another lockdown, I wonder if we might (some of us) start to develop a sort of comfort in our atomized and fragmented and isolated lives.  I’m talking about myself of course.   I’m aware of a danger that I might take an ‘I’m alright, Jack’ sort of mindset.  A mindset where I gather what I need and shore myself up.  Pull up my drawbridge a bit more than I’d want to.  It’s a trap I know I can fall into.  So writing this is reminding me to give away what I think and feel I want and need as a practice of love.

Sacrifice is a practice of love that I know I need.  How about you?

Helena x

Next month, I’ll balance this post with one that looks at the dangers of sacrifice …

Also, I have new dates for my 6 week online Leading from Love programme.  Starting on 19 March, you can find full details here.  Previous participants described it as inspirational and soulful and ‘a deeply thought-provoking examination of what it means to be a leader and the mission to bring more love – and thus humanity – into the way we lead’.  Take a look? 







  • Ray

    Hi Helena. Thanks for posting this. It really made me think and contrast your inquiry into this with my own. If one is pursuing the path of love for the right reasons, which in my view is to put one’s shoulder behind the wheel of global consciousness evolving, then it won’t necessarily feel like a sacrifice, but more of an honour, a divine gift, a heavenly experience. I cannot imagine any greater service than standing aside from one’s own ego, or the conditioned self and all the cravings, needs and wants that arise from it, to instead focus on what mankind wants from us, what God wants from us, what humanity asks of us. Easy to say, but the devil is always in the detail and I’m challenged every day to remind myself that this is who I really am. That my life is not really my own in that sense. It’s a huge shift and I must admit how much I’m attached to my personal cravings, needs and wants. I’ll tell you when I reach the end if the commitment to the practice I’ve described was worth it, although I’m fairly convinced even now that it is xxx

    • Helena Clayton

      Thanks Ray, as ever, for your insightful comments. Couldn’t agree more about the path you’re on, and you are a powerful role model for me in the choices you’ve made and continue to make. And I need that because for me, the tussle between selfless and selfish is very much alive in me …


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