The Power of Love

All through high school, and through my first year of college, I was convinced I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. I wanted to listen to people’s troubles and help them figure out a way to solve them. I was less concerned with the tools (psychology) than with the results (relief of anguish).

Then, fall of my sophomore year of college, I took a friend’s advice and tried out Intro to Political Theory. I can still picture the narrow room in Stetson Hall at Williams College. It had a long, wide wooden table around which maybe twelve people could fit, without much clearance between the backs of their chairs and the wall. The professor sat at the far end of the table, framed by a tall picture window. I arrived late, and the only seat left was at the opposite end of the table. I slunk in and began taking notes. The subject was power.

I found myself scribbling in the margins of my notes: power to, power over, power from, positive and negative forms of power…. A whole world had opened itself to me, and I soon left psychology behind. (Didn’t hurt that I wasn’t very good at it.)

Twenty-odd years later, and if you were to ask me in Spanish what my profesión was, I’d say politólogo – politicologist, or in the parlance of the schools I attended for undergrad and doctoral studies, “political science.” I’ve studied institutional power in various permutations.

But the concern with the relief of anguish has remained. And that’s why I work in philanthropy. Because people are using the power of money, and all that it affords, to make change out of love. I was about to say, “out of love for humanity,” referencing the etymology of “philanthropy,” but I’m too much of a politólogo to think it’s just that. Love of control. Love of prestige. Love of attention. They’re all in there, to varying degrees. I’ve written about the expressive dimensions of the act of giving, and that expression has many dimensions, many of them not particularly noble.

But the love is there, the very human hunger for satisfaction of an emotional need, even if it’s just a sense of order and justice in an upside-down world.

For me, then, philanthropy is a kind of palindrome: love of the power of love. Those two qualities, ever in tension, caught up in each other. That’s what keeps me going in this field.

What motivates you about philanthropy?

P.S. Now just try getting that Huey Lewis song out of your head. You’re welcome.

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