This was the provocative title of a recent development session we ran for interested colleagues and friends. Frankly I wondered if anyone would come. But you might be reassured, intrigued or horrified that 20 people came and spent a very stimulating day exploring the topic. We looked at the concepts and language of love, the dilemmas of working this out and even the philosophical framing of the question!
I was struck yet again by the paucity of our beloved English language. We have one word for snow yet the Eskimos have 180 snow- and ice-related words ! We have 1 word for love [though perhaps some related others around familiarity and fondness – and plenty to express lust and its derivatives]. The ancient Greeks had 4 words. Clearly we don’t ‘eros’ [romantic or sexual love] our clients, we might in some way ‘philia’ [brotherly love] or ‘storge’ [as in family love] them but in the main perhaps we aspire to ‘agape’ [unconditionally love] them.
A privilege of organisational consulting is that we get to immerse ourselves in different organisational systems. We get to interview, read, ask questions, listen, observe and hear about the organisation. This process of immersion as we seek to understand an organisation can be bewildering, overwhelming, wonderful and exciting. We come in time to ‘see’ and ‘know’ the world of our clients. What we ‘see’, given our unique perspective, can be usefully different from what our clients see. It can help us together work out how the practices, systems and life of their organisation can be improved.
I am struck by this ‘knowing.’ It’s not just a knowing about, in the intellectual sense. It’s more akin to the ancient Hebrew word, ‘Yada. ’ This has five distinct meanings including “Adam knew Eve.” But it also means to know something or someone in complete detail.To study or investigate until you know everything about it completely. It has the sense of deeper knowing of the essence and identity of the other. So perhaps love [of all kinds] has at its roots a sense of knowing the other.
So ‘loving our clients’ for me must include developing a deep appreciation and understanding of them as people and organisations – of who they are, their history and what they stand for. What difference are they seeking to be in the world? These are key aspects of ‘Identity’, the core domain of organisational health in the Tricord model.
But we can only truly know and appreciate our client’s identity if we know who we are and love ourselves – with all our failings. Clarity about our own identity and sense of self [what might be called “ontological rootedness”] is essential in organisational work. Otherwise our boundaries are unclear and we can merge in a messy confusion with our client systems.
To be able to clearly know, love and help our clients as people and organisations, we have to know who we are as consultants. And love ourselves. No one ever said this was easy!