I have presented on the flow of leadership and community. I often use the concept of a flowing stream to express how change flows through our life and work.

The flow of water in a stream follows the path of least resistance. The water is persistent in finding that path, and the stream renews itself every day by its efforts.

If we speak of flow in human terms, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did in his 2004 TED Talk “Flow, The Secret To Happiness,” which brought this important idea to the world, I believe we can understand how people—and, by extension, the world—may find peace.


What Is Peace?

Peace is not the absence of conflict. Rather, peace is the ability to be one’s true self in the midst of the inevitable conflicts we encounter. To live with integrity is to be at peace, which creates a life of flow. This peace is the product of love’s having found its completeness in our life and work. So, in other words:

Flow = Love.

The ancient Greeks had four words for love:

  • Agape—unconditional, sacrificial love
  • Eros—physical, erotic love
  • Phileo—friendship
  • Storge—affection like a family

All four of these types of love need to flow together—rather than apart like separate tributaries, each seeking its own flow and diluting our purpose.

We must find a depth of life experience through a combination of these types of love to have a clear sense of purpose each day. Then, we will be in the flow of life.

In this completeness, we find the flow that brings peace in the midst of conflict.

For if we are not complete, how can our relationships be whole and happy, and how can the world in which we seek to change also become whole and at peace?

In the Flow of Life

When we are in the flow of life, we discover a kind of wholeness that brings fulfillment and contentment to all of our relationships, both professional and personal.

As human beings, we desire meaningful, healthy relationships and ultimately for our lives to make a difference that matters. Without each of the four loves functioning in our life, none of our relationships will be fulfilling. How does each of these loves play out as part of the greater whole? Let’s take a look.

Affection and Friendship

There are many people for whom I have affection. I care about them and appreciate who they are. There are hundreds—perhaps a thousand—who fall into this category for me.

I wish for many of these relationships of affection to become friendships, where we identify a certain common or shared desire for one another’s happiness.

My guess is that many of our relationships are like this:

Acquaintances who transcend shared affection to become genuine friends—if only for a short time. Like old high school buddies reconnecting on Facebook and discovering that shared childhood experiences have produced a friendship that survived the disconnect of time and place, or the deeper connection that takes place when someone falls ill and neighbors offer support and genuine affection. We step forward in these moments and create meaningful change in our and another’s life.


The physical love of eros is more than sexual, though our society has, unfortunately, reduced it to this one dimension. Erotic love is embodied love: a love of the whole person. It is larger and deeper, more significant, and more difficult to achieve than affection. It is what we call intimacy, and it is something we all desire.

This kind of love shatters the illusions of appearances. It is openness and vulnerability. Because we often find it difficult to achieve this depth of intimacy with another, we can still find ourselves feeling lonely in a crowd of friends.

We want all the physical benefits of intimacy. Yet the emotional, psychological, and spiritual openness that is required to be intimate with another person is something we often resist. This is why pornography is such a powerful force in our culture. It presents the illusion that intimacy can be achieved without genuine affection and friendship. It is also why “friends with benefits” isn’t a surprising trend; it makes perfect sense to desire intimacy with a person one already shares some meaning and friendship. What is missing from this scenario is the commitment to another.

I’m not advocating for all our friendships to have a sexual side, of course. I am saying that our desire for intimacy is deeper than our sexuality and reaches to the very core of our identity. It is about being known as a real person by another real person, not by someone who is playing an “intimate” role in virtual reality. When we are truly vulnerable and open with another is when we are able to find shared meaning and purpose.

Unconditional Love

Unconditional love brings completeness to all relationships.

It is by far the most difficult love to live fully. It holds within it the highest ideals of human relationships—of love at its most complete and fulfilling.

Sacrificial and unconditional love requires great maturity. It is loving someone not for what it means to the giver, but for what it means to the receiver. It is where our affection, friendship, and intimacy flourish.

This is not a love of convenience. It is a love of commitment.

This is the most powerful and transformational of all experiences. It requires the laying aside of our individual right to be fulfilled so that we might together find shared fulfillment. It is a costly love through which we gain the best of all loves.

Throughout human history, unconditional, sacrificial love has been associated with marriage, but it is more than that. This is also the love associated with one’s passion or calling to service. It is the love that makes it possible for the other three loves to find their wholeness, connection, and unimpeded flow toward a lasting, meaningful impact.

The Impact of Love

Have I set up an impossible scenario for every one of our relationships? Of course, I have. But without an idea of the highest human experience, there is no clear direction to the flow of our lives.

When the love I describe becomes complete within us and seeks out others who have also found completeness in their love, then a deep relationship results; it changes us. We are transformed by loving, not simply by the idea of love.

With this ideal love, all the human characteristics we celebrate and honor—respect, trust, confidence, responsibility, courage, empathy, and self-sacrifice—find a common path upon on which to flow. Ultimately, this flow occurs from our own capacity to be the person we wish others to be.

I’d like to say this can come without pain or suffering, but it can’t. In fact, it is the very comforts of our modern life that stand in the way of a fulfilled, complete, and flourishing life. Those comforts present the appearance of strength and completeness. But too often they are the obstruction that blinds us to harsher realities of the world.

For our waters to run deep and flow in harmony, we need to dredge the streambed of our lives and remove barriers blocking the flow. The more courageous we are, the more willing we are to raise our standards in our personal and business life, the more committed we are to doing the hard work of changing our lives to create impact, and the more willing we are to defy fear and move into unknown territories . . . the more we will discover that flowing with love brings peace into a world of conflict.

When our individual experience of flow is unimpeded, meaning we are complete in our capacity to love, we also create flow in our families, our businesses, and our communities. And the world becomes more peaceful. We couldn’t hope for more than to be able to say, “I have found love’s completeness in my life and work. I am satisfied, fulfilled, and at peace.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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