Love, In Real Life

By Zoe Lawhorn

I’m reading a book by Becca Stevens called “Practically Divine,” and in the first paragraph of the introduction, she said writes a simple phrase that resonates so strongly with me in this era of division and animosity.

“Experience is nine-tenths of love.”

For so many of us, our experience of other people’s lives is limited to the newsfeeds on our social media accounts. We “know” our friends, because we see their carefully curated vacation photos, their shared links, and their shared memes. In the cases of those friends who we know well, these social posts add information to the real-life experiences we have shared together, but in so many other cases, the social profiles of our acquaintances create hundreds of story lines that offer a glimpse into their lives, but certainly not the whole story.

This scenario now expands to take the place of real experience in just about every facet of our lives. We are constantly absorbing the impact of information devoid of experience, which makes it much easier to assume we have an authentic understanding of complex issues that are in fact well beyond our grasp. It is in this space between information and experience, that we inadvertently build barriers to true understanding and progress.

I worry that one of the most devastating impacts of our current digital age is that as we trade more and more “IRL” experiences for digital interactions, we are becoming vastly less loving. And if “experience is nine-tenths of love,” our capacity to truly care for both the people who are close to us and those who are worlds away is being chipped away, post after post.

In the world of philanthropy, we are driven by a shared desire to impact positive change. There are countless causes and needs out there, and most of us feel drawn to certain organizations whose missions resonate within our hearts. I tend to feel most compelled by basic human needs, like hunger, poverty, the desperate need for affordable healthcare. I wouldn’t have any reason to feel true compassion for these causes had I not experienced lack at times in my own life and also through the lenses of individuals I know well.

We all gain love for people, places, things, and causes through experience, whether it’s first or secondhand. In my personal life, I have developed higher levels of empathy by listening to friends who are struggling. I can sympathize with the emotions they are experiencing, whether it’s an experience of joy or sorrow, and I learn just by being there, experiencing alongside them.

In my work and volunteer life, I have seen things I never could have imagined, struggles and human suffering, and the joy of transformation and new hope. Through those experiences, I learned to love people I would have never met outside of the world of service to others – people who before seemed unlovable, people whose choices I might have otherwise harshly criticized.

My work with the Women’s Fund has exponentially grown my circle of love by giving me the opportunity to know and work with other women whose hearts are dedicated to our mission: “transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children in Smith County.” Whether we’re reviewing grant requests together, setting up a special event, planning an educational opportunity, or creating flower arrangements for a Mother’s Day Luncheon, we are connecting in real life over a passion we share. Through these experiences, we forge a love for each other, for our giving circle, and most importantly for the nonprofit partners we support.

While I see numerous social media posts from nonprofits across East Texas, and while I have learned a lot about the needs facing our community through my years in nonprofit work, I gain the most impactful knowledge of these issues during our grants process each year. That’s an experience I quite honestly wish I could pass on to everyone.

You see, there’s no substitution for personal exchange, a big component of experience.

During the last phase of our grants process, representatives of the organizations requesting funding appear before our Grants Committee and make a presentation explaining the crisis they face and their plans to fix it. The best presenters bring the issue into the room, they make it personal, they give us the opportunity to experience the crisis ourselves, and we are forever changed.

Experiencing philanthropy in real life among friends and colleagues is a blessing I do not take for granted, and one that has increased my ability to love.

So, why is love important anyway? I believe that only through love are we able to bridge the impassable gaps that separate us from each other. It’s important that we find a way to come together, despite our differences, to make exponential change. That’s true in politics, it’s true in friendship, and it’s certainly true in philanthropy.

If I had to guess what the remaining one percent of love is, I’d suggest action. I am oftentimes overwhelmed with pride when I see the members of the Women’s Fund, informed by our shared experienced, come together in action – giving selflessly of their time, talent and treasure – to meet a stranger’s need.

Is your life lacking experience? Our giving circle is open to any women with a giving heart, any woman willing to love our community in real life. You can learn more by visiting www.womensfundsc.org.

Zoe Lawhorn serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle of more than 350 women with a mission of transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children.

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