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Love with a Mission: The Hub of Generational Healing


By Dr. Lisa Dunne 


In his 1936 bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie shares six tools that would help win over the affections of others: expressing a genuine interest in others, smiling, remembering people’s names, becoming a good listener, talking about the other person’s interests, and making people genuinely feel important. Of course, like any persuasive “technique,” these tips could be used to manipulate others. However, taken from the right heart and a healthy relational perspective, they can also be used to strengthen interpersonal relationships. The core of these tools, of course, is the perceived expression of love.


Love is perhaps the most profound and impacting of all human emotions. In his address to the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in 1958, Harry Harlow, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented his findings on the social isolation of rhesus monkeys. In his research, he demonstrated that without a base of what he called “love” from their mothers, baby monkeys would not feel secure enough to perform normal monkey behaviors such as warding off threats or exploring their primate worlds. These studies replicated, at least in part, John Bowlby’s (1950) findings on the “secure base” and the World Health Organization study Maternal Care and Mental Health. Like more recent studies by the Aspen Neurobehavioral Conference, Bowlby demonstrated that the deprivation of maternal love, especially in the first two years of life, would result in long term cognitive and socio-emotional challenges later in life. 


These studies were later expanded by Mary Ainsworth (1965) with her work on human attachment with the Strange Situation Procedure, where she analyzed the impact the type of relationship the infant had with its mother had on levels of stress to which it was subjected (through the coming and going of the mother). Children who were securely attached to the mother, like Harlow’s monkeys, explored their world freely while mom was present, were upset when she left, and responded favorably when she returned. This was known as secure attachment. 


As we consider the workplace environment and the many frailties we all possess within it, we would do well to appropriate grace to our youngest employees, who may or may not have had a secure base, who may or may not have had healthy attachments, and who may or may not feel ambitious and courageous about approaching new tasks or meeting new people. As neuroscience continues to show, the presence of healthy adult relationships can heal the wounds of the past. As leaders, it is our responsibility to demonstrate the healing power of love. 


Today, we know that love is a both a psychological and a physiological expression. In their book The General Theory of Love, University of California San Francisco psychiatry professors Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (2007) analyzed the role of the brain’s limbic system (the area of the brain that is believed to house emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory and smell) in love, attachment, and social bonding. They demonstrated that our nervous systems, rather than being emotional silos, are actually physiologically attuned to the people we are closest to. We see these behaviors evidenced in the mother-child bond through what is known as parasympathetic acceleration of the heart: the baby smiles, and the mother’s heart rate accelerates. There is both an emotional and a physiological connection to love, as we saw in the works on the bonding hormone oxytocin—which was elicited in both romantic and nonromantic relationships. 


Love is both verbal and nonverbal. We can offer support through both our words and our actions. In the workplace, we demonstrate love when we are kind and considerate toward others (these expressions can be, but are not limited to, verbal displays), but we also demonstrate love when we are responsive and positive toward others. In my research on GenZs, I’ve found that many of the resounding reasons the younger generation doesn’t feel “valued” at work was because they were not responded to, not heard, not respected. Our younger workers need both our words and our actions to offer value, which translates into love. 


When we think of the popular verse that is so commonly read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13, we often connect the context to romantic love. Interestingly, though, there is actually no specific delineation to romantic love in this passage. The word love here is translated not as eros but as agape. Strong’s Greek translation defines the word as “love, affection, good will, benevolence, brotherly love.” Consider the impact of such love on the workplace environment, our coworkers—and not only an external agent or a spouse—as we look at verses 1-7. 


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.


Interestingly, this is the same type of love, agape, that is extolled in Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” You may have “enemies” at work, whether they are those who intentionally “persecute” you or those who simply drive you crazy. These human behaviors are common to every setting, from the classroom to the boardroom. Learning to “love” these enemies and unloveables will bring an ultimate transformation not only in them, but also in us. We must learn to demonstrate a consistent agape love for our youngest workers that will help reset that balance of insecurity and anxiety many of them are facing today.


The stats on our youngest workers are sobering. The National Alliance on Mental Illness said in 2015 that there was a “crisis of mental health” on college campuses in the United States, with over 5 million students dealing with anxiety, depression, and emotional issues. Tragically, the second leading killer for college students, says the American College Health Association, is suicide. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Prozac Campuses” says that today’s students have an “overwhelming need to seem flawless.” They are uncomfortable with anyone, even their close friends, knowing that they have flaws or frailties. The airbrushed perfectionism of social media has transplanted itself into our collective cultural brains.  


It’s hard to pick up on when we’re working with younger generations. There is often a cool exterior displayed by Mills and Gen Zs, what Stanford University professors have termed “duck syndrome.” What we see on the outside when we watch a duck gliding across a lake is an effortless, graceful display of beauty. However, underneath the surface, the creature’s legs are paddling frantically just to keep the duck afloat. In the same way, because today’s younger generations are so accustomed to keeping up an image and pretending they have it all together, it can be difficult to ascertain what they are really feeling. 


In my work with Millennials and Gen Zs, I try to address these behaviors head-on by creating an environment of openness and acceptance, an environment that nurtures progress over perfection. Our younger generation is terrified of failure, and since failure is a very real part of life, stable unconditional love helps desensitize them to that irrational fear.

I realize that a healthy workplace culture does not solve the long-term strains of parental dysfunction that must be addressed if we are to heal as a nation; however, these strategies absolutely do help promote health and healing in our young adult population. We will look at that compelling research momentarily. So, though it’s a Band-Aid approach of sorts, it is still a start. 


As we x-ray our organizational cultures for signs of this kind of agape love, we would do well to remember the words of Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” If we want to see lasting cultural change, we must be willing to accept responsibility for problems we may or may not have created in our generation if we are to see true hope and healing in the next generation.


Dr. Lisa Dunne is a lifelong homeschooler, author, speaker, and president of Chula Vista Christian University. Catch her radio show on KPraise (KPRZ.com) every Saturday at 10:30 pm or her podcast The Communication Architect on Spotify. Join her rescue mission for the next generation at AcademicRescueMission.com.

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