Jesus Christ responded to a question from a student regarding the greatest commandment in the Law: “And he said to him, ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’ ” Saint Paul expounded on Christ’s profoundly simple answer unequivocally when describing human aspiration in relationship to God’s grace: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Reflecting on the importance of passion and compassion in university life, I was reminded how little attention we give these important aspects of learning. They have become nearly out-of-bounds subjects on university campuses. Rather, we talk about six-year graduation rates, standardized test scores, pass rates on professional licensing examinations, employment potential, starting salaries and other more readily measurable aspects of the fruit of learning. To be sure, every one of these are important. However, if all of those considerations added together are the total valuation of the university experience, we do little to advance the culture – singularly, the most important role of the University.
A university president’s reflection on the love of learning is expected. President of Bard College Leon Botstein has done so eloquently. The virtue of learning, adulthood as a “central personal habit” (I like to think of it as noble citizenship.) and the value of conversations outside the classroom as mirrors of learning inside the classroom all mark an effective university as a place of passion and compassion. While not the kind of love that Christ or St. Paul described, it does reflect passion for maturation and wisdom, authoritative educational goals that lead to the foundations of a learning culture. Every college should value passion for learning and compassion for people as central tenants of university life and outcomes of being an educated human being.
Powerful cultures for primary and secondary schools reflect positive aspects of college learning environments. Educator Jennifer Gunn suggests various paths to create an “awesome” school culture. These include living the school’s mission, creating a sense of resilience, clear communication, awesome staff and positive reflections that recognize forward movement for students and staff alike. This may not be love in the sense that Christ defined it, but it is definitely a kind of love elevated to high human purpose.
Educational Leadership, a publication delivering thoughtful guidance for school populations, identifies qualities of a positive learning culture. Commitment, joy, support, focus, camaraderie, purpose, energy, empathy, collaboration, community, trust, grit, inspiration, authenticity, relationships and compassion, in part describe a positive learning culture. Such traits would not surprise anyone seeking to understand a positive human culture in a university, community, or even a commercial corporate enterprise. Yet it is difficult to talk about these apart from a loosely held generalization of a loving attitude towards others. I have never heard anyone suggest that a measure of institutional effectiveness should be how we demonstrate love one towards another. I appreciate the impact of these almost intangible characteristics and lament the near impossibility of their calibration divorced from individual experience.
An Entrepreneur post identified virtues of successful companies. Kayak offers people “the most fun job you will ever have.” Gore-Tex, among the Fortune 100 best companies to work for, earns employee loyalty commitments nearly unique in corporate America. They claim not to manage people, but “to have people manage themselves.” Netflix and Pixar have been successful, in part, by recognizing and sustaining corporate values so that everyone may participate. Belonging to a community and being appreciated by others in an engaging environment are derivatives of a caring culture. This could be colloquially and appropriately described as a loving culture.
A few ventures have the courage to include the concept of love in their corporate self- conception. Whole Foods Market is unapologetic in identifying local caring as the core of its management philosophy. Likewise, PepsiCo employs caring as its first guiding principle. If St. Paul was PepsiCo’s CEO he may have said, “But the greatest of these is caring.”
The 1967 Beatles counterculture anthem decreed its title: “All You Need is Love.” Close, but no cigar. Exhibiting care – love – is not horseshoes, close is conditional. Embedded in Christ’s pronouncement and reinforced as the Golden rule is the idea of caring for others unconditionally.
Unconditional caring propagates a culture of love.