A recent blog post “Law. Liberty. Love.” argued that absent a constraining force the amoral nature of liberty destroys the peaceable and productive threads that bind together any societal group, whether a family, team, community, company or country. The choice to constrain liberty by an external force (law) or restrain liberty from an internal motivation (love) impacts societies and businesses in innumerable ways and results in vastly different outcomes.
Society of Liberty Constrained by Law
Liberty constrained by law and administered by imperfect human beings faces a continual and mostly losing battle to find the proper balance of prudence, reasonableness, equality and reliability.
Liberty constrained by law creates narrow spaces hemmed in by the boundaries of many regulations and policies and wastefully consumes attention and energy to understand and avoid those boundaries. This approach demands long lists of dos and don’ts that cover every conceivable situation. Consequently, we end up with voluminous regulations and policies; including bulging employee manuals that no one reads; except to determine, after the fact, whether an infraction occurred.
When we constrain liberty by law some people in the group will push those boundaries to test how far they may go without suffering harm. Consequently, the group consumes significant time, energy and money protecting those boundaries and addressing the people who flout them. On the flip side, more risk averse people withdraw in fear of breaching an ill-defined or unknown boundary. Both responses drain the vitality from a society.
Society of Liberty Restrained by Love
On the other hand, liberty restrained by love creates vast open fields of opportunity for creativity and risk-taking. When we know that others have our best interests at heart we trust (not fear) them. This freedom from fear unleashes the innovative spirit within each of us.
Rather than an energy-sapping focus on boundaries, we channel our resources on wide-open opportunity spaces. We shift our minds from the negative to the positive. We concentrate on opportunities not obstacles. We focus on constructive behaviors; not catching people doing wrong. We don’t spend money on compliance. Instead, we invest our resources on encouraging and developing people.
People began to watch out for each other and catch mistakes (not as a gotcha, but for the good of the team). The late Bob Galvin of Motorola was fond of saying, “Individuals make mistakes, but teams can be perfect.” People start compensating for each other’s weak spots and collaborate in ways that yield results far beyond the sum of their individual efforts. People feel better about coming to work in an environment that encourages and challenges to be their best. Consequently, attendance and attention improve and drive a safer work environment, better quality and higher productivity. You get the idea.
How do we develop liberty restrained by love?
Present society defaults to liberty constrained by policies and regulations to the point that “love” for others is rarely heard in the public square or board rooms. Why? In the English language the word “love” carries multiple meaning, and this creates confusion. Classical Greek used three different words for different types of love. Eros, or physical love, which often involves sexual expression. Phileo, or soul love, is most commonly associated with affectionate feelings toward friends or personal interests we enjoy. Agape is a mature sacrificial love that is intentionally and overtly others-focused; the expression of which almost always comes at a cost to the bearer of agape.
Unfortunately, the sexually charged nature of our society means that eros dominates the meaning of love in public discourse, and, thus, we rightly shy away from it in a business environment. Yet, we instinctively know that building and sustaining any collective effort requires expressions of affection (phileo ) and sacrificial caring (agape). Since we cannot use the distorted word love, we have sought a substitute in “respect.” Unfortunately, in an environment of liberty predominately constrained by policies and laws, respect is often just a bland and unemotional tolerance with no caring for the object of respect. We just put up with or ignore each other and our lives and businesses suffer for it.
How then do we change this dynamic and unleash the power of liberty restrained by love?
It starts with each of us individually. We must shift our mental and emotional focus from personal rights to personal responsibilities. We must change our mindset from what can I get to what can I give. Invest time in getting to know others beyond work (i.e. care for the whole person). Invest resources in developing people around us. Treat others as voluntary collaborators with us rather than “assets” we leverage only for what they are worth to us or the group to which we both belong.
Openly express our appreciation for others and their work. Openly praise expressions of sacrificial caring by others. Gratitude and giving are contagious, but they will not go viral if these behaviors are stealthy. We have a real live example from recent weeks where over 300 people in line at a Starbucks in New York City paid for the order of the person behind them.
Our place in the group’s hierarchy matters little. Anyone can be a catalyst for liberty restrained by love. Yes, it may feel lonely in the beginning, but others will notice and begin to emulate sacrificial selfless behavior.