We associate February with love. Yet, I am recently reminded of how narrowly we tend to think of love in our culture. We focus so strongly on romantic love in literature, in film, in just about every way, that other forms of love get pushed into the background. And while we love our parents, our siblings, our children in precious ways, I’ve found myself asking: how might we expand our concept of love?
One of my favorite examples of love—though not typical—is the relationship during the American Civil War between Union Generals Sherman and Grant. Even though General Sherman was Grant’s subordinate and they didn’t meet up very often due to their separate military campaigns, they had a deep trusting bond and an understanding that was transcendent. Things weren’t going well for the Union in the early years of the war. The rebel forces, while smaller and under-resourced, had racked up victory after victory against superior strength. And Sherman, who often found himself in difficult straits, wrote to Grant in 1862 saying:
“I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come—if alive.”
The understanding was that only death would prevent Grant from coming to Sherman’s aid.
In my work with leaders, we are expanding our idea of love to include anyone to whom we extend ourselves in an open-hearted way, a way that expects nothing in return. This description opens up a broad range of possibilities that offer us a moment-by-moment opportunity to go beyond a confining idea that love must involve romance or familial relationships. This expanded view allows us to see love in our relationships with colleagues, with trusted friends, with all those we know will show up for us.
I am particularly drawn to think of my friendships—especially those that are aged like fine wine through time and life’s experiences—as poignant examples of love. We have many acquaintances and even friendships that come and go, that rise and fall. We have a few that meet the test of time, that stick over the years, that involve visceral trust and connection that cannot easily be replicated, that go deep. These friendships are not based on the ego stories we have built to make our way in the world, but by the story of our souls, the part of us that goes to our essence and our deepest values and does not change. Perhaps we only have the room for a few of these relationships in our lives, but I believe they can occur in many situations, regardless of other externalities or power dynamics. And if they go deep, they may form more quickly.
As it stands, I know of only a few friends who could write to me the way Sherman wrote to Grant. They are dependable to the end and would come to my aid, no matter what, no questions asked—if alive.
- How might we further expand our definition of love? What else does love need to describe it?
- What greater blessing can we ask than to be loved by good people?
- What more can I do to be this kind of friend to others?