The Paradox of Attachment and Freedom

Gianpiero Petriglieri is from Italy. He is a psychiatrist who teaches leadership in Europe.   In his last two visits to Ann Arbor he and I have met and spent time in joyful reflection.

One of his current interests is selfless love. He is interested in the paradox that love is a form of commitment, attachment or constraint that makes one feel free. How could this be?

We agreed that social science cannot easily explain love because selfless love is not transactional, that is, it is not a self-interested exchange in which we give something in order to get something. Rather it orbits around the notion of willing sacrifice. Love emerges when one person freely surrenders something for another.

As we talked we pushed this notion. We agreed that love is manifest by what we do.   Other people experience love when we model it for them and we experience selfless love through the actions of others.   Love is a state of being outside of convention, it is not normal. When we feel it or receive it, it is a unique and valued experience.

A person of selfless love comes to care about the present and future well- being of another. While the person of selfless love cares about the development of our potential, they also recognize that growth is predicated on personal belief, willingness to experiment, and the freedom to choose.

The person of selfless love invites, encourages, and inspires but they do not control or manipulate.   The recipient of love is free to make real choices and the lover does not judge or condemn the failures of the loved. The lover encourages learning and growth in the loved. Selfless love leads to an increase in self-efficacy or the belief that we can do things we could not previously do.

Love is a manifestation of our deepest and most beautiful truth. When we experience love, it promotes our growth, increases our capacity and make makes us free from our old, false beliefs that held us back. When we feel this growth we gain the capacity and desire to give selfless love to others. It gives rise to positive contagion.

As I now reflect on the above, it strikes me that selfless love is the highest form of leadership. When we find a positive organization, we usually find a leader driven by a higher purpose. Research verifies that transformational leaders exercise idealized influence which is basically the ability to attract others by living in selfless service to those others.

I am grateful for Gianpiero and for our visit. Because our conversation was about love, it gave rise to love. With each thought we shared, we invited the other to a more generative level of understanding.   We grew because we were attached but free.



  • When have I received selfless love in my life? When have I given it? What would happen if I gave it more often?
  • Wisdom based on conventional, transactional experience assumes that selfless love is weakness and inappropriate in secular life. How can it be the source of power that turns organizations positive?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



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