Can love be a force for political change?

Is there any scientific basis for believing that love can be a force for change in politics and economics? An interview with one of the world’s leading authorities on positive psychology and the value of “micro-moments of connection.”


Can love be a positive force for change in the public sphere as well as in our private lives? If not, Transformation is in trouble: openDemocracy’s new section has staked its future on demonstrating that radical changes are possible in politics and economics when approached in a spirit of human connection and solidarity. 
At first glance, there’s an obvious problem with this thesis: can we really “love our enemies,” or even our friends and colleagues who we don’t know very well? Is there any scientific basis for believing that love can stretch beyond the boundaries of our intimate relationships? What do the latest developments in human biology and psychology have to say? 
Barbara Frederickson is better qualified than most other people to answer these questions. A professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a leading figure in the burgeoning “positive psychology” movement, her new book is titled Love 2.0: how our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do and become. In it, Frederickson tries to show that love for others - all others - can be consciously cultivated and applied in every sphere of life.
Positive psychology has been criticized for ignoring the structural factors that underpin discrimination and inequality, and for over-emphasizing the power of individuals to shape their own horizons. But Frederickson doesn’t see any conflict between accentuating the positive in our own lives and extending our concern to other people. Quite the opposite: she sees positive emotions, empathy and love (or what she calls “micro-moments of connection”) as points along the same continuum that can be strengthened by using exercises like “loving kindness meditation.” Try the exercise that’s described in a separate article on Transformation today and make your own mind up.
Despite this conviction, the index to her book doesn’t contain a single reference to poverty or inequality, war or violence, race or sexuality. It’s a curious omission if love really does “affect everything that we do.” Love is everywhere perhaps, except where it’s most needed. Yet she also concludes that “expanding the pool of moments in which people feel safe” is one of love’s preconditions, so economic and political systems that guarantee human safety and security are essential. To find out more about this puzzle, I spoke to Barbara Frederickson.
ME: You debunk the common understanding of love as romantic attachment, and explain it instead in terms of positive emotions that our bodies can understand, experience and develop beyond our friends and families. But are positive emotions really the same thing as love?
BF: Love is both positive emotions and larger than the self. We typically think in western culture of emotions as belonging to a person - being confined to one person’s brain, mind or skin. Here I’m arguing that actually people co-experience emotions, especially positive ones, and when they do, that’s when they are reminded in an experiential way that they are part of something larger than themselves, that they share a human connection, whether it’s with a person they know well or a stranger. It’s where we experience our common humanity.
The roots of my work come from evolutionary psychology, so I’m trying to describe experiences that are often called out as ineffable, spiritual or transcendent and say well actually, these are products of our emotions. They are what we experience when we connect, a positive emotion that’s rolling through two brains and bodies at once. It’s a powerful, uplifting feeling and it turns out to be extraordinarily healthy. But the benefits accrue not just to one person’s health but to the health of communities, and that is where it connects really well to your idea of social transformation.
ME: By describing love in this way, isn’t there a danger that we will cut ourselves off from negative emotions such as anger and a sense of injustice that are essential to social struggle? 
BF: No, I don’t think so. From an emotions perspective I like to tell people that no emotion is meant to last forever, not even the ones that feel good. So the fact that we can understand love better doesn’t mean that we won’t have experiences of anger or outrage or sadness. Negative emotions are essential for flourishing and creativity and resilience... read more:

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