I’m gonna let life move me
I’m gonna let life stir me deep
I’m gonna let life wake me up
From an ancient sleep
I’m gonna laugh all my laughter
I’m gonna cry all my tears
I’m gonna love the rain
Just as deeply as
The sun when it clears.


This is the song we sung. Clapping, swaying, eyes closed, chests lifted, three times in a row. You’ve maybe heard it before. There is love, compassion and vulnerability in these words. Critical capabilities for building relationships. At times words can feel inept at describing certain moments. Other times, songs like this are able to sum it all up perfectly – and move us. That we are moved by love to do something. Isn’t that what social change and justice are all about? Love breaks our hypnosis and shows a path to find oneself, and in that, we lead. We become leaders by breaking from our trainings and learning with others a new way.

Love doesn’t have specific qualities, it has different forms according to ancient Greek philosophers. Leading is quite similar in its emergent state where everyone has the capacity to love and lead. Ancient Greek had four types of love that have been lost over the millennia. Back in college, I studied philosophy with a fever pitch and found myself enraptured by the writings of this time. Until recently, the four types of love had fallen into the recesses of my mind. Relegated to the forgotten filing cabinets of the brain. That may be the inspiration behind this entire post. The forgotten things we know are required, yet slip to the background in a deluge of capitalism, individualism, and the feel of busyness that tells us we just don’t have enough time. In some instances we probably don’t have a lot of time. Change is imminent, fear is to follow. Instead of working the muscles of love, compassion and vulnerability, which are now weak and deteriorated, our muscles that have been given steroids continue to bulk with strained pain and bulging veins.

We use love for so many moments as flippant as loving berry pie. We love foods, friends, partners, families and pets. But is it the same kind of love for all? Could it be useful in growing our love and compassion muscles to understand the different ways in which we love? I found the proceeding four different forms cradled love in ginger arms respecting its many uses.

Storge, the first form, is an affectionate, familial type of love. It’s what I feel towards parents, siblings, my pets, sleeping in on Saturdays, sun rises, and slippers. It’s winter, in front of a fire, wrapped in a quilt. It’s comfort and comforting. It’s where we take refuge. This is a healing place when we hear about devastating updates to the climate, policies, or even the daily doses of hate found on the internet.

Philia is the love we have towards friends. Aristotle broke this down further into three levels of utility, pleasure, and friendships of the good. Utility is transactional. It might be how we feel towards those we work with. A reciprocation to complete tasks and projects together over time. I have a small handful of coworkers that I’ve worked with now for over seven years. We may not get together outside of work and yet I consider them my friends. We’ve formed bonds and helped one another. I enjoy this distinction as I have coworkers in which that title feels to cold and doesn’t encapsulate our bond. Yet, friend seems too close since we don’t share those sacred spaces saved for those outside of work. Pleasure, however, is reserved for those we hang out with after work for happy hour or on the weekend or at a protest. These are the friends we tell secrets to and provide solace after a rough day or week. This is another place of refuge. Of the good are the deepest of friends. They are rare. These are the women I can talk to over years and decades and no matter how much time passes in between our calls, we pick up as if no time passed at all. I can safely say at this point I believe I only have two or three people in this sphere, if I’m lucky. Within our deepest traumas and pains, friends of the good is who we seek out for comfort.

All three forms of philia together with storge make up my community. Depending on the need, I may go to a friend of utility, pleasure, of the good, or my family. The bigger the crisis, the more I move towards of the good or family. Providing love, compassion, and vulnerability is what builds and bonds the relationships throughout all of these. By leading with these, I find foe along my path.

Eros is the passionate love I feel towards my partner or your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife. What may surprise, is that it is also fleeting, changing and fluid. It’s always moving and dynamic. It can’t be kept forever in a box or held on to tightly. And this surprises because we think of love with our significant other as permanent, fixed or that how I felt at the beginning will be the same feeling felt today or in the future. Nothing lasts forever, relationships whither, partners die. (I’m not trying to get too morose here.) Eros is also conditional – part of that fleeting and fluidity. Generally, I think that we expect our partners to provide support and that we ourselves want to be the person they need as well as they want to be what we need. I want to be a better person for my partner. But if I began to feel that the flow, if you will, wasn’t going both ways, that there wasn’t reciprocation, love could begin to change and move somewhere else.

I also think of eros as emergent leadership. The origin of leader began with guiding. It was concerned with our existence and not a set of qualities or titles. From these origins it was believed that leading was the ability to find one’s own path. To lead oneself not necessarily others. It flows from within and impassions us to rally and protest. It drives us to stand our ground to hate. It’s very similar to Taoism when I researched leader. Taoism speaks of the way without controlling, dictating, or doing the thing at hand by oneself or even taking the credit for it. Within Taoism, I’m to embrace my own path and a place of guidance and facilitation that provides space for and moves others. Leader as non-leader. Eros is the passion I have towards something, so much so, that it turns me into an emergent leader.

Agape at its root means being open to what’s in front of you and not clinging. This love devours you so that nothing else becomes important except loving. It’s the loving kindness of Buddha or the love that Jesus felt for humanity. It comes from within and is the love required for social justice and change. Agape is what is asked of us when faced with inequality to find our voice and speak. Agape motivates and inspires us to stand from the benches and sidelines and move to the center. We may begin with eros but we move out with agape. Agape forms the framework of emergent leadership. After the passionate spark is lit, I have to turn to agape so that leaders begin to percolate all around. Agape is my full embrace of love, compassion, and vulnerability without which I can not build trust and new relationships that help to break down white supremacy and capitalism. Agape takes strength. To see what’s in front of me means I have to stop the one-story framework that over generalizes and simplifies the cause of something, the stereotypes and labels that lead to divisiveness and the clinging to the parts of my identity that feel under attack in that moment. Clinging from fear and for safety whether real or perceived.

Storge and philia loves provide a shell like a turtle. A place for me to go and re-energize. A place to be around like-minded people. A place of safety and comfort when the world feels to be pummeling my body. Eros provides not only the passion of first meeting a lover but the passion behind movement. The spark that ignites that feeling of I must go do this, now. I feel eros when I think about a retreat I was at recently. It sparked within me passion that I must go do this thing right now. I must lean into conflict and those who I may not agree with. If any of us want to see lasting change we are going to have to make space for acknowledging our traumas, privileges, and powers. We’re going to have allow for it to get messy so we can get through and beyond. Learning how to move my body within this space takes love, compassion and vulnerability. This is agape. Feeling in my bones the need for time, space, trust, relationships, love and most importantly vulnerability. I’m not trying to lead the way for others, but lead the way for myself in a space that allows room for us all to be struck with eros and agape. To find the leader within ourselves. I move myself so that I can potentially move you. You move within so that I can be moved. Together we dance.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie McMillenSherry
    June 7, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    I love this. Thank you for your embrace of love as strength.

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