The Love Metric: Is it Good for Anything Except Making Babies?

halleberry How do we measure success in America? Be honest, what does success look like around these parts? In a recent article in Quartz Magazine, Suzanne Guillette wonders if success can be known using a “love metric". She looks at the new initiative by the NoVo Foundation, a billion dollar foundation run by the son of Warren Buffet, which aims to use a new metric to understand efficiency in the giving game. Does love count when it comes to measuring success?

Guillette is doubtful. She wonders aloud if love can be defined:

So if love is not the opposite of numbers, what is it? To institutionalize love, or create a movement around it as the Buffett’s are trying to do, it’s important to first define it—and determine why it matters to philanthropy. In this way, the Buffetts’ op-ed falls short... they don’t define love specifically.

Wait, the Buffet’s don’t define love specifically? My first reaction to this is “thank God.” I mean we are talking about love for God’s sake! On the other hand, doesn’t it seem sensible to ask about love when it comes to giving money and creating projects? Shouldn’t love be a result of, well, love? Mother Theresa left love in her wake, right? If your work doesn’t leave some love behind then what’s the point?

So maybe we should measure it somehow? Peter Buffett is trying to do this, and I think it is commendable. But how should such a measurement look?

Let’s go with this: A successful project should increase love and decrease hate. It should increase joy and decrease unnecessary suffering. A successful project should transform lives. And the only way to measure such a thing is with our noetic selves. Here I am referring to the nous, an ancient Greek concept that turns up in many texts throughout time and across cultures. Gregory Palamas, a 13th Century theologian, writes of the nous as that faculty in us is akin to a spiritual eye. The nous both recognizes light and conducts light into the darkness. It is that part of us which perceives the good, or God. But it is not pure reason; it is not the “thought” of the enlightened philosopher. It is much more powerful than our thoughts. It is with the nous that human beings acquire true knowledge, not simply scientific knowledge. It is our measuring stick for good. And it is the thing we weaklings desperately need in order to identify success.

For us over here at FTF the nous is what we hope to use when we relate to others, especially those with whom we live and work. It is the nous that points us toward the next step in our journey to assist our brothers (and strengthen our nous). Some people call it the soul, but I don’t think that is accurate. The soul has come to imply some sort of irrational, mystical thing that is amorphous and “in there” somewhere (if at all). The nous is different. It can be nurtured and “cleaned”. It can be grown through humility and simple living. It is what increases in us when we actually spend time alongside those who suffer. The nous as a spiritual eye can become powerful and can see deep into the mystery of human existence. It is wisdom, and it is often found in the quiet, vulnerable spaces we find ourselves in on any given day. And it seems to me it is just the tool we need to measure success.

And so let’s get down to brass tacks. Noetic success looks like a human being transformed. It looks something like a smiling child bright with joy as his absentee father returns after months away. It looks like... ah hell, you know exactly what it looks like. This dumb blog doesn’t really need to explain it to you. You know love, but only if you are there to see it. And there’s the rub. Noetic success demands that we human beings be present. And I mean that literally and figuratively. You can’t know the success of a project in the Bronx by looking at a spreadsheet drinking coffee in a Manhattan corner office. Sure, the spreadsheet can tell you how the money was spent. It can show you how many jobs were generated. Numbers can account, indeed. But they lack something noetic: They lack the language of love. That language is present in the spaces between the lover and the beloved; in the spaces that unite people.

Love can only be measured when we are present.

Think of a brand new school building. Is it enough to say 500 kids now have classroom space where before they worked on a farm and couldn’t read? No, it seems to me that a noetic assessment is in order. Is this thing called a school filling these students with something other than lifeless facts? We need a teacher on the ground, 24/7, sending back noetic reports on the lives of those kids. After all, what would it profit a person to create a school if in the end their school eradicated both illiteracy and joy? Ouch.

So does this mean that numbers don’t matter? Not at all. They matter the way numbers matter. A 3% increase in disposable income, if that is one stated goal, should be one stated outcome. But if that 3% increase in income results in a 10% increase in cocaine use, well, you have failed. I mean, you have, right? What I am saying is that in order to judge the efficacy of any charitable donation we must use our noetic faculties. And in order to do this we must be in relationship with “the good”, and that means we must develop loving relationships with others, especially those we aim to assist. A successful outcome cannot be known any other way. The human person, therefore, is both the goal of and the measuring tool, for success. But we must be alive and there, on the ground, present.

In this way, we at FTF applaud the NoVo Foundation’s attempt to create a new metric-- which of course is anything but new. Love is as old as human nature and is, in fact, much more than human nature. In some ways NoVo need not invent a new metric. They need only place people in close proximity to other people and ask them to employ hardcore humility. Therin all the metrics necessary for success will be found. Not every plan of action, mind you, but where there is love for those who suffer there you will find the prerequisite for success.

But what about scaling this then? Making it big!? Can you scale such a thing as love and relationship and all of it? In my next post I’ll tell you of an experience I had that tells me yes... you can scale this.


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