Love is my religion – at least that's the name of this blog. Many religions, including the one I was raised in but no longer practice, talk a lot about love. Jesus, either the historical figure or the deity, whichever you prefer, had many profound things to say about love.
The one that always comes to my mind is his classic “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What does it mean to love? We use that word a lot in our society, both flippantly and seriously. When we talk about loving our family or our partner or our sports team, we know exactly what we mean. It's easy to think of concrete ways to demonstrate our love in those relationships. But what about everyone else? The world would be a far less inviting place if we only stuck to our clan, so how do we show love to those outside of our immediate circle?
When I was growing up in the church, “Love your neighbor as yourself” was drilled into my head. I always assumed that it meant something to the effect of “BE GOOD TO EVERYONE – ALL THE TIME!!!”
We were always told that loving “other people” was really important, but they never really gave us any specifics on how to go about doing that. The ways we can and do love the important people in our life are often obvious. How do you show love to someone you barely know?
While I recognize that there's more than one “right” answer to this question, for me the easiest answer is to use the power of words. And the most common place I apply this is at work. I’m a teacher in a special classroom for teenagers who’ve survived extreme trauma. In addition to their trauma, most of my students haven't attended school in many years and are way behind peers their age. Many of my students did not have a positive relationship with school when they did attend. Occasionally, I even get teenagers who don't know how to read or write.
My primary job is to teach, but it's also important that I support my students from an emotional and mental health perspective as well. Often, that means using schoolwork to distract them from their bigger life problems. Other times it means letting them draw or color, because that's all they're capable of doing on a particular day. And sometimes it means pushing them hard so that they can gain confidence as they progress and achieve their goals. But most importantly, it means showing them that they are loved.
A lot of my students think of themselves as screw-ups or believe that they're destined for a life of menial labor. They, like a lot of adults, have preconceived notions about the limits of what they can and can't do. Now that they're forced to go to school again, they have to face their self-imposed limitations, and the collision between what they are expected to do in school and what they believe they cannot do is intense. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time with upset and angry teenagers who feel like they're failing at life.
People talk a lot about the three magic words “I love you," but in my line of work I've found there to be only two magic words: “good job.” It seems so overly simple, but the effect these words have had on my students has been profound. Most of these kids have never had positive encouragement in school before, let alone in life. Often, the first few times they hear me say "good job," they’ll look up at me from their desk with a look of bewilderment, like maybe I made a mistake. With a little more repetition, they get used to hearing me say it and they stop doubting my sincerity. Then they reach my favorite phase, where they actually start to believe it themselves, and no matter how cool they try to seem, their new confidence and pride is obvious.
When I realized the effect those two magic words were having, I started trying to say them more and more often. I tried to end almost any interaction with a student, no matter how small, with those words...
I figured that at some point my students would get tired of hearing it, or it would get old, or that they would catch on – but get this, that still hasn't happened yet. Those words never seem to lose their ability to inspire, and the kids never get tired of hearing them. And it isn’t just those two magic words, any positive feedback or compliment has the power to help change a student’s perspective.
I started thinking about the other people in my life, especially people my age or older, and I started trying to give out more direct, specific compliments to them as well. If I thought a co-worker did an excellent job handling an incident with a youth, I made sure to tell them, and include the details. If I was on the phone with a customer service representative who helped me make sense of a complicated bill, I made sure to thank them for explaining things in a clear and concise manner. Basically, everywhere you look you can find people you may or may not know doing a good job at something. And while adults don't wear their emotions on their sleeves in quite the same way that children and teenagers do, they are not immune to the power of a simple, well-delivered "good job."
I do believe that being loved changes people. It doesn't matter where that love comes from – parental love, friend love, romantic love, etc., – all people thrive on love. The great religions of the world don't have a monopoly on loving others. It's something we can all do, in ways large and small. And sometimes, those small ways add up.
— written and shared by Carli Newsum