Love Class

Leo Buscaglia (Wikimedia Commons)

The maieutics school focuses on two basic philosophical experiences: the experience of doubt and the experience of totality. In the winter of 1969, a drama took place. An intelligent, sensitive student of Professor Leo F. Buscaglia (1924-1998) committed suicide. According to Buscag-lia, this twenty-year-old girl was not only very amiable, but her grades were also excellent. At first sight, everything went very well with her. However, she jumped into a ravine. For Buscaglia, this experience of doubt was so moving that he, as an ortho-pedagogue, was moved to develop a new course. That course would be devoted to spiritual growth. It soon became apparent that one theme ran through all kinds of other themes – such as sex, responsibility, death, hope and the future – namely, love. Hence, this new course was named Love Class.

In fact, there was no question of teaching, since Buscaglia himself was only a student in the field of love. He therefore acted primarily as a “facilitator to the students as we guided each other closer to an understanding of the delicate phenomenon of human love” (Buscaglia, Love, p. 12). “I don’t teach love, of course, I simply facilitate growth in love” (Love, p. 16). Else-where he writes, “I don’t teach that class. I create possibilities. I make things happen. I meet with people and I teach them something. We learn together. Because love is learned, each of you has learned it in a different way, and you have as much to teach me as I have to teach you” (Liever leren leven, p. 67). Some of Buscaglia’s colleagues responded with some reser-vation, as they did not really think ‘love’ was an appropriate theme for a course at the university. Indeed, one colleague even found this topic ‘irrelevant.’ Others mocked it and asked if there would also be ‘laboratory research’ (as if love were nothing but sex…). Meanwhile, however, Love Class grew into a serious project of about 100 students a year, varying in age and development, over several academic years. In other words: Buscaglia was clearly reaping success!

That the topic of love has been put in the doldrums by mainstream science, Buscaglia puts it into words as follows:

“Love has really been ignored by the scientists. It’s amazing. My students and I did a study. We went through books in psychology. We went through books in sociology. We went through books in anthropology, and we were hardpressed to find even a refer-ence to the word ‘love’. This is shocking because it is something we all know we need, something we’re all continually looking for, and yet there’s no class in it. It’s just assumed that it comes to us by and through some mysterious life force” (Love, p. 17).

Buscaglia believes – and the maieutics school follows him – that love must be cultivated. According to him, countless psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists and anthropologists have shown that love is a ‘learned response, a learned emotion’ (Love, p. 43). Just as you can sow hatred, which unfortunately happens frequently, you can do the same with love. This applies to the individual, the family, the community, the country, and ultimately the world as a whole. Moreover, the maieutics school believes that in every human being there is a meta-physical core consisting of unconditional love, as part of the primal principle that makes itself known to us particularly through experiences of totality. Cultivating love thus essentially amounts to a rediscovery or exposure (maieutics) of Love with a capital letter.

Buscaglia argues that every human being essentially possesses a “limitless potential of love” (Love, p. 56). This potential only needs to be cultivated and, according to him, this is done by finding out what is characteristic of true love and then making these characteristics your own. This is done more or less by play. “Love, especially, is learned best in wonder, in joy, in peace, in living”. During the Love Class, for example, Buscaglia and his students carry out experiments that would not be out of place in the school of physics. In his book Living, loving, learning (in Dutch translated as Liever leren leven) we read the following:

“I once did a one interesting experiment with a group of students, during a psycho-linguistics course. I had them make two lists of words. On the one hand, we made a list of ‘worthless words’. Words we would never use again, like ‘hate’, ‘despair’, ‘no’. We put together a dictionary of worthless words, all really negative words. On the other hand, we put together a list of positive words, like ‘love’. We decided to use only these words when we would talk about other people, to talk and think only with these words about ourselves and about the world. We did that and amazing things happened to the way we felt, the way we made other people feel and the repercussions of that on ourselves. And all just by using positive words!” (Liever leren leven, p. 50-51).

In the same book, Burscaglia writes the following passage about cultivating love:

“If each of us said to ourselves tonight, ‘I don’t have it in me to go and help other people. I can’t.’ But I resolve that I will never hurt anyone, at least, not intentionally’. My good-ness, what a wonderful place this world would be! Every time you feel evil coming up, you immediately suppress it! After a while it becomes second nature to push away negative feelings. And then you don’t even need to do that anymore. That is the reaction when you think positive, because the positive brings forth the positive. We hear that and we laugh about it, but everyone loves people who express love. We think they’re a little crazy, but we like that they’re around us” (Liever leren leven, p. 186).

It is clear that Buscaglia’s thinking can be a great source of inspiration for the maieutics school. The facilitating role he played in his Love Class, as well as the experiments under-taken in the process (supplemented by yet-to-be-developed working lectures) can inspire contemporary teachers. Buscaglia’s ideas should therefore not only be carefully studied, but also implemented in a creative form of education. In this way, love – as our innermost core and proper identity – can be cultivated in society in a more systematic way. Someone who already pursued this ideal at the university was the unfortunately much too early deceased Charles Flynn.