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When love raises its head on the shop floor

  • 04 November 2021
In large organisations love hardly rates a mention. Mission statements highlight care, duty, responsibility and friendliness, but not love. Love is generally seen as an interrupter, combustible, something to fence in with protocols and professional standards, and for HR to monitor. When Pope Benedict XVI devoted an Encyclical to the place of love in public relationships, people were surprised. His argument is worth revisiting.

In contemporary culture public and personal spheres are sharply distinguished, and love is seen as personal. Personal relationships are the business of the individuals concerned. When brought into public life they can distort people’s reasoning and create conflicts of interest. If love turns to resentment the consequences can hurt the effectiveness and reputation of an organisation.

In some economic ideologies love is implicitly seen as subversive of organisations and society. If economic growth is the measure of personal value and the good of society, and it is achieved by individuals competing for profit, the intrusion of love can erode the individual’s stern commitment to the pursuit of wealth. Altruism has no place in organisations.

In governmental and other institutions charged with the care of people, the principal internal relationships are often seen as transactional, and so conceived in terms of justice rather than love. They focus on fairness and emphasise correctness and resolving conflicts in relationships with the people whom they serve.

In such an austere world Pope Benedict’s reflections on the place of love in public life can seem both strange and beguiling. He begins by reflecting on love within a Christian framework and moves to consider its place in public life. He identifies love with desire, which is the engine of all that we plan and do. Our loves dictate the large things that we seek, whether they be virtue, wealth, power, fame, sexual gratification or comfort, truth or goodness. Within love he identifies two movements:  one is the desire to receive, and the other to give. Ideally they run together, so that when we love someone we want both them to be a gift to us, and ourselves a gift to them.  Where love is identified only with receiving, our love for the other is possessive. When our desire to receive is matched by a desire to give, our love is altruistic. We see our own good as bound to others’ flourishing. Benedict explores the implications of this double sided quality of love for economic and other