The Love of Humanity – Philanthropy

By Ramona Dallum Lindsey, VP, Equity and Impact

The word “philanthropy” originates from the Greek word philanthrōpos. Its roots – phil- + anthrōpos – translate into love of human beings. Greek philosophers used Philia to describe one of love’s many phases. If we assume philanthropy is rooted in love, it seems appropriate that during the “love month” we consider these origins to determine philanthropy’s behavior in a moment when so many are calling for a justice that would end humanity’s suffering.

Ancient teachers recognized love’s complexity. Many believed love to be best described by its actions. The Greeks used several words to describe the evolution of love evidenced by actions. Their ladder of love began with the most basic demonstration of love known as Eros. Near the ladder’s summit is Agape. Agape love, inspired by truth and understanding, acts unconditionally for all of humanity.

In India, around 500 BCE, followers of the teachings of Buddha began practicing the Four Elements of Love – loving-kindness, joy, compassion, and equanimity. More recently, Thich Nhat Hanh (who died just last month and was a highly respected spiritual teacher, peace activist, and contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) often reflected on the power of love. He expounded on the fourth element of equanimity by saying, This means that you do not exclude. His suffering is your suffering and her happiness is your happiness. There is no individual suffering anymore. In true love, there is the element of nondiscrimination, no separation. In that spirit, you cannot say, “That’s your problem!” No, your problem is my problem. My suffering is your suffering.”

The Torah, the ancient Jewish book of wisdom, also depicted love as an action challenging the suffering of others. Arnold N. Eisen, the Professor of Jewish Thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary, references the book of Leviticus to describe love’s behavior. Professor Eisen wrote, “Love is an integral part of the regimen of holiness to which Leviticus calls its readers: not taking vengeance, treating strangers and the needy well… and performing dozens of other acts of justice and kindness.”

The Apostle Paul, a disciple of Jesus and an ancient teacher of the early Christian church, wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

In all of these teachings, love is an action based on relationship and trust. Acting in love requires vulnerability and self-reflection to fully understand how you support another person’s joy by confronting suffering. In 2016, the Community Foundation of Louisville adopted a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In December 2020, we added a commitment to an anti-racist identity. We acknowledge that racism is a system that gives unearned benefits to individuals based on how they look. We commit to understand the roots of this system, the suffering it’s created, and the role we’ve played to enable it.

Thich Nhat Hahn also said, “In Buddhism, we learn that understanding is the very foundation of love. If understanding is not there, no matter how hard you try, you cannot love…”

Philanthropy grounded in love will strive to understand suffering in order to create systems that promote joy and happiness for all humanity. Over the next year, we invite you to join us on this journey of understanding. Together we can build new systems founded on transformational love.