It’s easy to think of love as that magical feeling that sweeps you off your feet, romance of the heart-throbbing kind. Or of the tenderness that sweeps over you when you cover your sleeping child with a blanket. Or of the sweet joy of an encounter with a dear friend.
What’s more challenging is to think of love when you’re in the midst of a disagreement with your significant other, or your child is having a temper tantrum, or that dear friend is criticizing something you said or did.
And yet, isn’t that where love is supposed to exist? Through thick and thin, difficult, disappointing, or downright ugly situations? After all, we are told by the many religions of the world, that love is kind, patient, and “endureth all things.”
Yeah, right. You wish. Heck, I wish! For all that I like to think of myself as a loving person, I am not always practicing “love in action.” Too often, it’s easier to practice “love as concept,” as a nice ideal. Something I do best when I’m feeling the emotion itself.
But love in action is just that: the willingness to love even when the emotion is not present. I don’t know about you, but I rarely feel “that lovin’ feeling” when I’m in full defensive mode, vigorously imposing my point of view. If anything, my righteous ego-self takes over and I am perfectly willing to (verbally) go at it tooth and nail. Not only that, but given that I’m so often in the position of being asked for advice (paid for it, as a consultant), it’s virtually knee-jerk to expect my perspective to be accepted as “correct.”
Not very loving, that! It’s taken me years to understand that listening is often more loving than offering advice. That loving doesn’t mean “fixing” but rather supporting, encouraging. Making a determined effort to see the best in someone and letting them know that’s how I see them.
That kind of loving can work miracles, as exemplified by a young teacher, Ms. R.* All of twenty-four years old, she found herself faced with a fourth-grade class mostly composed of severely disadvantaged children, given to violence and inappropriate behavior, largely considered unreachable. Ms. R was given no resources with which to teach. No books, no schedule, no lesson plans – not even enough desks. Three years later, Ms. R’s class has one of the highest attendance and lowest tardiness rates in the school. Her students proclaim their love of math (!) and self-manage their classroom.
How did Ms. R succeed in this astounding transformation? She believes in them from Day One, and tells them so. She shows them that they are capable of far more than they realize, and they respond to her belief. She calls her fourth-graders “scholars,” and treats them accordingly. In concrete practical ways, she shows them who they truly are, bright and shining beings, worthy of the best this world has to offer.
Now that’s love in action. The kind of love that revolutionizes our world.
So, inspired by Ms. R, I’ve decided to have my personal re-commitment ceremony. Not to an individual, but rather to love in action. To making a more concerted effort to see things from the other person’s point of view. To listening with all my being, rather than formulating a response in my head before the words are even fully out of the other’s mouth. To support and encourage rather than advise and counsel, until, and only if, such counsel is requested.
And when I flag in my intention, to remember Ms. R, and the miracle of her fourth grade classroom.
*Name with-held to insure privacy of the classroom.