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Made in South Africa: On the usefulness of self-love and communion in changing the world

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Lwando Xaso is an attorney, writer and speaker . She is the founder of Including Society. She is also the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’. Follow her at @includingsociety.

Last Sunday I was asked to speak on a panel on the meaning of self-love and to make a connection between self-love and changing the world. At first, I did not think my skills were suitable for this panel. Should a constitutional lawyer be speaking on self-love? As I thought about it, the connection between self-love and how we can transform our country became apparent.

First published in Daily Maverick 168

Much of my 2020 has been spent reflecting on the meaning of community because of the invocation of community as the world reckons with a novel virus and with the longstanding virus of racial and gender-based oppression. I explored the theme of community with a friend of mine who is a deep thinker and with whom I exchange readings on these themes weekly. We looked to black feminist and social activist Prof bell hooks and her work on love and community.

hooks does not subscribe to the idea of community but to that of communion. She believes that community has a lot of dysfunction whereas communion happens in a functional setting where the people who come together have a sense of themselves. She prescribes that for communion we need agency and subjectivity. In order to commune with others, we need to know who we are first. We cannot arrive at the table empty. Communion requires that we all bring something to the table.

This distinction between community and communion has helped me articulate the problem I have had within my own communities. Sometimes we think merely coming together as members of certain discrete groups means that community magically forms itself. However, according to hooks there is some work that each individual has to do before they can commune with others. This is where I make the connection to self-love.

In exploring ‘self’, hooks says that there is an animating principle in the idea of the self – “a life force that when nurtured enhances our capacity to be more fully actualized and able to engage in communion with the world around us”. When it comes to love, hooks’ definition is that of psychiatrist Scott Peck, who defines it as the “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. hooks adds that “love is as love does”. It is an act of will which implies choice. We choose to love.

So self-love is nurturing the life force within us to enhance our capacity to self-actualise and to enable us to engage in communion with the world around us. In my career in legal practice, I have never heard anyone use the word love nor has self-love been encouraged as an essential element to the making of great lawyers and, in turn, great organisations.

People who work together are a community. Our nation is a community. However, I believe that in order for us to actualise the promises of the Constitution, we need to be in communion with each other, not just in community. This means that we need to centre love in relation to ourselves and with others. I have experienced enough to know that the language and the practice of love would much enhance our communities and bring us into communion. Love is how we change the paradigm of oppression, inequality and injustice.

In the words of the great poet, Elizabeth Alexander: “What if the mightiest words is love? Love that casts a widening pool of light.” I hope we challenge ourselves every day to strive to bring the force of love to our communities and light to the world. DM168

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