Love and Intellect in Social Change Leadership

Social innovation is a tool, but tools don’t build or fix things. People do. This idea was explored in the first post in this series, which illustrated that despite social innovation’s widely trumpeted potential to solve the world’s problems, it simply can’t. Meaningful and lasting solutions come from social change leaders with highly developed vision.

Where does this vision that makes social change leaders exceptional come from?

Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are among the many social change leaders who identify love and intellect as fundamental to shaping their vision.

Love as Empathy

Martin Luther King, Jr. Social ChangeDr. King spoke and wrote eloquently about love and intellect. In his 1957 sermon “The Power of Non-Violence,” Dr. King explained that ancient Greek philosophers had three forms of love, but that agape love was the form essential for social change leaders.

We often refer to agape love as “empathy.” Generally speaking, the value of empathy is widely accepted. But, we tend to vilify those who harm or oppress others. Dr. King points to empathy for everyone — those who are oppressed and those who oppress — as crucial for social change leadership. This empathy allows us to recognize evil acts, but does not allow anyone to be seen as evil. It requires us to find love for all and have faith that all are capable of that same love. In the social sector, this means all stakeholders are treated as essential partners for any solution, regardless of any previous or current acts.

Honest, Humble, and Determined Intellect

In Dr. King’s 1947 article “The Purpose of Education“, he shared reflections on the importance of intellect. To Dr. King, the development of intellect is not about identifying winning arguments or making a case for one’s side. It’s about pursuing truth. This requires honesty that does not ignore or rationalize difficult truths. It requires humility that admits a lack of knowledge and limited perspective. It requires determination to pursue truth to empower all rather than a few. In the social sector, this means giving equal value to the needs of each stakeholder. This means treating everyone as authentic sources of knowledge and truth. This means giving up positions of social, cultural, and political power that prevent the realization of truth.

Mahatma Gandhi, Mr. Mandela, and Dr. King all ascribed to this thinking. Each wrote extensively about the importance of finding love for their oppressors. Each developed their intellectual capacities extensively. Perhaps most importantly, they each shaped their vision as social change leaders using their love and intellect. Their efforts are renowned because they were rooted in a vision of creating justice and equity for all, not just the oppressed. Their social change outcomes endure because the vision shaping their actions was based on a pursuit of truth, not on advocacy that shifted power from one stakeholder to another.

Ultimately, it was these qualities that allowed leaders like the three above and Muhammad Yunus (discussed in the first post of this series) to wield the tools of social change so effectively. Our pursuit of greater justice and equity in society requires social change leaders with highly developed vision shaped by love and intellect.

In the final post in this series, we’ll look at how these qualities can be developed. Stay tuned…

For more insight into the impact love and intellect had on the shaping of each of the above mentioned social change leaders, pick up the following books:

Subscribe to this blog to continue to follow the posts in this series. This blog is authored by Robin Pendoley, Founder & CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders, an educational non-profit offering gap year programs that create social change leaders.

11 Comments to “ Love and Intellect in Social Change Leadership”

  1. What a great post. Thank you for the reminder about the importance of love and intellect in leadership. I look forward to the next post.

  2. I agree, great post. Often I speak about the importance of communicating and demonstrating love in our organizations, as CEO, as community change maker. Usually I get very uncomfortable looks from others. Or people often suggest that this does not belong in our workplace or our work. I think it is the foundation of our work.

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  10. […] teach about the “tools” of social change. Thinking Beyond Borders develops the often neglected inner capacities necessary for great social change leadership. Our programs represent an intentional and intensive […]

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