With the approach of Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think of my wife’s uncle, Leo Buscaglia. It was his favorite day of the year, and literally millions of people around the world associated him with it, being as it was a celebration of love. I’ve mentioned him before in this space, and for any of you who are unfamiliar with the man, allow me to introduce you.
Leo was known as “Dr. Hug” by the many who listened to and loved his message. He wasn’t entirely comfortable with that title (people who came to hear him speak would wait for hours after his lecture just to get a hug), but he was an incurable, hopeless romantic and believed, truly believed, in the goodness of people and in the power of love.
He agreed with all who dismissed him as being simplistic, saying that love is the simplest thing in the world, and that we complicate it. He had much to say on the topic of love, not as an expert but as a human being struggling, just like the rest of us, to bring more love into his life. It was my good fortune (being in the family didn’t hurt either) to work with Leo for five years on a syndicated column and on three of his books. More than anyone I’ve ever known, he was true to his deeply held convictions and lived his life accordingly.
Leo made the distinction between having the capacity to love and having the ability to love. Love is learned, he believed, and must be continually studied and practiced. And so on the occasion of Valentine’s Day, I’ve gathered a few quotes from Dr. Buscaglia — some from his writings and some from very long conversations we had over the years, all of them timeless.
“Today the phrase ‘love one another’ takes on a more urgent tone. It is painfully obvious that conventional methods to bring peace and understanding to our world have failed.”
“Only love holds no jealous possession over people and nations. Only love is capable of putting humanity before ideology or race. Only love can supply the endless energies required to overcome hunger and despair.”
“I’ve often been told that in my zeal to love everyone, I risk ending up loving no one. Nothing could be further from the truth. Universal love is not only possible, it is the most complete love of which we are capable as human beings. When we accept that, we discover that love, fully realized, has the power to lay aside the petty things which separate us and reveal the fact that our enemy has a face and a heart.”
“If each of us were to recollect our sharpest, most vivid memories, I would be willing to bet that the moments of love and the people who were part of them are the most permanently etched.”
“There is also a transcendent power of love, one that was working before we were born and that guaranteed us a whole army of people who would love us no matter what. And ultimately, there is the faith which, in all religions, tell us of another kind of love which lasts beyond any concept of time.”
“So, for the question, ‘How do I know when I am truly loved?’ there can be only partial answers that need elaboration and the special touch that each of us brings to a relationship. Certainly, though, when we are loved, the people who love us want us to be what we are, not what they are. They rejoice in the fact that we are growing with our ideas, our dreams, our uniqueness, our future. They want us to be independent and free, not submissive and afraid. The people who love us want to simplify our existence, not by protecting us from pain, but by being there when we need them. They encourage risk because they understand that by risking, we continue to grow. They help us to find alternatives for behavior, rejoicing in our success and comforting us in our failure. They are not only lovers, but friends, loyal and willing to make allowances for our imperfections.”
“The opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy.”
I absolutely know that to be true after 30-plus years of teaching.
I know with all of the children I have taught over the years that my disappointment has registered; I am positive that my anger got through, that my punishments were remembered. But I also know from experience that my indifference to a student, any student, constituted a real failure for me as a teacher. It sent the worst message that one human being can send to another: “You don’t matter; I’m indifferent to your struggle; you’re not even worth my anger, I don’t care about you.” That’s a pretty harsh message to a struggling student. It is a stake in the heart of kid whose life is filled with people who turn a deaf ear and a cold heart to him.
Leo’s critics often dismissed him as being on the cream puff end of psychology, or depicted him as a walking, talking Hallmark card. But they had a hard time explaining how the man filled stadiums and concert halls with his message of love or how he remains to this day one of America’s all-time best-selling authors. Even the most hard-driven cynic would have to acknowledge that this crazy world and all of the mixed-up people in it could do with a little more love.
I’ll keep that thought and a basketful of others from a man who devoted his life to spreading love and whose legacy lives on in the hearts of millions who remember him.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Leo.
DAN KIMBER is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@ sbcglobal.net.