By Samantha Thomas
Often when I tell people that DreamChange's annual business conference is called The Love Summit, they pause to reflect on whether they heard me correctly. Once they realize that they did in fact hear correctly, their response is usually something along the lines of, "Wow. There's a conference to discuss the role of love in business? Who would have thought?"
Such reactions have affirmed the reason for creating The Love Summit in the first place. Shouldn't it be an indication that business must be relatively misconducted if the idea of love in the workplace is so far fetched? And no...I'm not talking about romantic, sexual love. I'm talking about compassion - genuine concern for others.
HeartMath Inc., co-founded by Love Summit 2015 speaker, Bruce Cryer, exhibits scientific evidence showing how the heart and brain live in constant dialogue, continuously influencing the others' functioning. On its website, HeartMath.org, the company explains the importance of the heart brain connection:
The signals the heart sends to the brain can influence perception, emotional processing and higher cognitive functions. This system and circuitry is viewed by neurocardiology researchers as a "heart brain."
Most of us grow up believing that the brain is the intelligent and sensible one, while the heart is made out to be emotional and irrational. We are constantly told to use our heads at work, when actually, our hearts should be used equally. This is because the human heart consists of approximately 40,000 neurons, which allows it to learn, feel, sense and remember -- just like the brain.
If the heart has such high sensibility, then why do we undermine its intelligence when it comes to making decisions that vastly impact other people and the planet? Whenever I ask myself this question, I always come back to the same answer: it's because we're traditionally taught that in order to be credible business leaders we must get out of our hearts and into our heads. Alas, such conformance has resulted in serious crises.
Corporations in the United States were originally formed for the purpose of enabling activities that would improve society's standards of living. This included providing public services, developing infrastructure, creating jobs, and cultivating lasting business-consumer relationships. History shows that businesses were initially founded on the basis of compassion -- of genuinely caring for the wellbeing of others.
But in the 1970s, economist Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize by promoting a new economic agenda, stating that the sole goal of business is to maximize corporate profits regardless of social and environmental costs. Following Friedman's agenda has required disregarding the heart's intelligence, as to not "dangerously" provoke compassionate decision-making.
Since adopting this mindset, we have created a world where less than 5 percent of us (the United States) consume almost 30 percent of the planet's resources, while half of the world is on the verge of starving, or actually dying of starvation. While other countries strive to be like the United States, the reality is that this way of doing business is not a model. It is statistically impossible that China, Russia or any other country replicate it, no matter how hard they try.
Friedman's economic agenda has failed us. While it may appear on the surface that we have succeeded in creating more profitable businesses, profit is only real and lasting when it has a reciprocal relationship with its environment. Evidence such as climate change, a diminishing middle class and worldwide poverty -- largely produced by a lack of love in business -- have created a questionable future for generations to come. Since people and the planet cannot sustain these practices, businesses that perform such activities can neither thrive nor sustain themselves long-term.
History shows business has unprecedented power to change the world, and the time has come to use it as it was originally intended -- as a force for good. That's why DreamChange created The Love Summit: to bring to light why "loving is good business"; how acting from a place of compassion will not only benefit society and the environment, but also our businesses and other institutions. Love can be the motivation behind business planning and work relationships; it can -- and must -- replace fear and scarcity, the current underpinnings of a failing economy and environment.
It's time we get over our fear of using the words love and business in the same sentence. After all, business in the simplest terms is about relationship -- the relationships with all the people we work with, buy from and sell to. And all healthy relationships are, in one way or another, based on love.
If we can put the past behind us and take a more heart-centered approach to all that we do in business and otherwise, having a positive impact on the world around us will be effortless. Yes, innovative technologies and "green" business practices are a part of the way forward to a more stable world, but they are only one aspect of the equation; changing the way we relate to other people and the planet must come first and foremost.
As soon as we begin approaching our relationship with ourselves, others and the environment from a place of compassion, everything else will fall into place. The most likely candidate for decelerating climate change, protecting the environment and creating positive social change for future generations is -- "who would have thought?" -- love.
Samantha Thomas is executive director of DreamChange Inc., creator of The Love Summit and a sustainable business consultant. She is a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum and has been featured in publications such as The Oregonian, Yes! Magazine and Real Leaders.