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Business and compassionate love: It’s complicated!


Those whose Facebook status this Valentine’s Day is either “single” or “it’s complicated” might do well to ponder upon the concept of compassionate love. Sometimes referred to as altruistic love, compassionate love focuses on the good of the other.

Since 2001, compassionate love has been the object of study of several scholars, and has received several million dollars in research support from the Fetzer Institute and the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL). One of these scholars is Lynn Underwood, senior research associate at the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University. Underwood, who co-edited a book titled The Science of Compassionate Love: Theory Research, and Applications, proposed a framework that identified five key and defining features of compassionate love: (a) free choice for the other; (b) some degree of cognitive understanding of the situation, the other, and oneself; (c) valuing the other at a fundamental level; (d) openness and receptivity; and (e) response of the heart.

Another noted scholar is Stephen Post, a bioethicist and theologian, whose work has been useful in increasing our understanding of compassionate love, which he also refers to as unlimited love. Post builds on the work published in the 1950s by Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, who described five dimensions of love, namely intensivity, extensivity, duration, purity and adequacy. Post highlights the importance of extensivity, or the extension of love to all human beings, which brings me to the central point of this article.

So what has compassionate love got to do with business? The short answer is that compassion can lead to the creation of social enterprises.

In the article Venturing for Others with Heart and Head: How Compassion Encourages Social Entrepreneurship, scholars Toyah Miller and Jeffery McMullen of Indiana University, Matthew Grimes of the University of Alberta, and Timothy Vogus of Vanderbilt University proposed a model of three mechanisms that transform compassion into social entrepreneurship. These mechanisms are integrative thinking, pro-social cost-benefit analysis, and commitment to alleviating the suffering of others. This model is built on the premise that the decision to start a social enterprise, while partly driven by self-interest, is substantially motivated by the emotion of compassion. In the realm of romantic love, the equivalent is roughly captured in the lyrics of a Nat King Cole song: The greatest gift you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

I can already hear the Friedmanites among us saying: “If you want to engage in altruism, work for an NGO.
Don’t taint business with mushy concepts such as compassion and love, unless you want to end up in the red.” Our own research provides some evidence that attempts by Philippine social enterprises to balance their economic and social objectives often result in sacrificing one over the other. Social enterprises that find a viable ‘social business model’ are, indeed, a rare breed, but these few cases tell us that perhaps business and compassionate love can be compatible with each other. However, there are a lot of factors to consider for this relationship to work and to be sustained.

So for those driven by compassionate love and are bold enough to start their own social enterprise, be forewarned: It’s complicated!

Raymund B. Habaradas is an associate professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where he teaches Management of Organizations and Management Research. He does research on SME development, corporate social initiatives and social enterprises. He welcomes comments at rbhabaradas@yahoo.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.

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