Aristotle once wrote, ‘What a society honors will be cultivated.’ How fortunate we all are to finally have the value of love and commitment raised into the embodiment of our leadership. The photos of the new president and his wife sweeping the dance floor at the inaugural ball with only eyes for each other sent a message into the hearts of all of us. Love matters, and in fact was probably one of the single most significant factors in the success of our most unlikely of presidents. Certainly President Obama is brilliant, but he has also been brilliantly loved.
The love that developed and shaped him fosters not only his relationship to his wife and family, but this more peaceable administration. It is discernible in every decision he makes, whether it concerns humane conduct or respect for environmental needs. His voice and messages are compassionate and inclusive. He genuinely wants to make amends and do better and he feels the pain that our long coming economic meltdown is inflicting on us all. Every day he attempts to balance our collective fear of the future with the promise of renewal born of community and service. In current events every day, we can bear witness to the fact that love can and is changing the world.
While many might scoff at the suggestion that love can in fact reinvent our world, recent scientific advances have proven the effects of love on human consciousness. According to three University of California MD’s in their groundbreaking work, A General Theory of Love, ‘Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.’ Through careful explanation of brain development and the wonder of being both Mammalian and neural beings, we humans have the capacity for ‘neural revision.’ This capacity provides the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love. Long lasting togetherness actually writes permanent changes into the brain’s open book and our relationships both pull us into the gravitational force of our loved ones’ emotional life at the same time as we mold them to our own.
This fact is both a gift and a burden because unlike the technological efficiencies that our modern existence has come to depend on, the life of the heart and its relationships live on in time. Relatedness is a physiologic process that like digestion or bone growth, cannot be rushed. The skill of becoming related to another person and attuned to their emotional capacity and rhythm takes years and requires continuous attention. Unlike other skills or things acquired, relationships are always in process and require the same amount of attention in midstream that they do in the beginning. Single moments of disconnect wedged between hearts can and do turn into weeks, months or years of distance.
Relationships die every day from inattention and neglect. Many couples cannot love simply because they don’t spend enough time in each other’s presence. People mistake text messages and emails as togetherness, yet screen exchanges or even a voice over a line lacks the life connecting substance of time spent side by side. If this is true for adults working to sustain their relationships, it carries even more weight for the developing hearts and limbic brains of children. There is no substitute for the daily presence and attention that families offer the next generation. If any single thing is ailing our culture, it is this; the utter disconnect that broken families leave in their wake for the children who are left to learn how to connect and build lifelong relationships for themselves.
Family is the foundation that community and culture is built on. Resolving to give the relationships that make your life meaningful their due is a gift that you give not only to the ones you love and yourself, but the culture we collectively create. I hope the Obamas find ways to keep the connections between them strong as the weight of the world falls on this young family. It is in our interest as well as theirs that the love that made Obama who he is-continues to shape who he will become.