Sociologist Charles P. Flynn (1945-1987), affiliated with the University of Miami, was dissatisfied with the prevailing educational system because he felt that “the most important thing, the love that binds people together, that makes a society possible and gives meaning to human life, was never addressed” (Flynn,De bijna-doodervaring, p. 118). Flynn therefore questioned whether and how love can be taught and formulates his considerations in the following way:
“How can unconditional love be taught in the educational process to people who have not had a near-death experience, nor have they experienced the influ-ence of someone who has gone through such an experience? How can teachers and others instill in their students a greater sense of caring and consideration for fellow human beings in an educational system that is formalized and ritualized, encourages competition, and negatively affects us rather than helping us to transform?” (De bijna-doodervaring, p. 118).
To answer that crucial question, the Love Project was created by Professor Flynn as an experiment in the 1980s. The 1972 book Love by Leo Buscaglia, mentioned above, served as the manual for that course. About four hundred students partici-pated in Flynn’s Love Project. They were shown videos about near-death experiences (NDEs) and heard lectures on the same subject. Then the students were given the task of establishing a loving relationship with a relatively unknown person (dis-tant family members, roommates, elderly people, colleagues at a vacation job) and to report on this, for example through a diary.
Flynn’s experiment, which would also fit within the maieutics school setup, succeeded wonderfully. More than 80 percent of the students reported increased compassion for others, while about 65 percent reported increased self-esteem. Two thirds were found to have increased compassion somewhat and 20 percent to a great extent. Some also gained greater insight into themselves and the meaning of life. In some cases, even the fear of death decreased and faith in an afterlife increased. Follow-up research after a year showed that these effects were lasting, albeit somewhat more in some than in others. Furthermore, the Love Project allowed differences between generations, social classes and cultures to be bridged. “Many students learned to get along better with old people” (Flynn, De bijna-dood-ervaring, p. 132). They sought out older people and developed friendly ties with them. All kinds of social and cultural prejudices also disappeared. This acted as an eye opener for the students. People they never expected to be able to appreciate actually became friends.
About the Love Project, one of Flynn’s students testified as follows:
“For the last two years I had been studying psychology and sociology with the intention of finding work in that. But only now, in this course, did I understand what the meaning of life is. It may sound a bit ironic, but in all the psychology courses (which stood for a large number of study hours) I honestly haven’t learned half of what I learned through the Love Project. I have seen firsthand what love can do for someone. As Buscaglia says, ‘The answer is always love, and that is what can change the world. I have also seen what can happen to someone who does not receive love: it can lead to all kinds of social evils, crime, juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, wife and child abuse, alcoholism, suicide… Because of this, I think I will live with ‘my eyes open’ in the future: I think that through love I can help make this world a better place, if not for others, then for myself” (student, quoted by Flynn in De bijna-doodervaring, p. 141).
Flynn emphasizes that this was only a temporary project and that “greater results might be expected if the project were the main part of a special course that was entirely about love”(De bijna-doodervaring, p. 124). Incidentally, it appears that not only students, but also researchers c.q. teachers can change as a result of the course material. Following on from this, Flynn adds another important sociological observation. Where there is no love, he warns, things go wrong. “Violence begets violence. Clinical research and other scientific studies of the behavior of murderers and others who use violence clearly show that these people were often severely abused themselves as children” (p. 142). “Maltreatment in child-hood can lead to violent behavior later in life” (p. 142-143). As an example, Flynn cites Nazi leader Adolf Hitler who was “beaten so badly by his father that he almost died from it” (p. 143). How different might world history have been if the young Adolf had been treated with love? Instead of hatred and resentment, he could have cultivated love.
Flynn’s suggestion about a special course on love was realized by psychologist Kenneth Ring at the University of Connecticut during the period from 1985 to 1994. Ring, by the way, is a co-founder of the International Associa-tion for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). For years he lectured on the near-death experience. It is estimated that a total of about five hundred students participated in these lectures. In doing so, Ring came to similar findings as Flynn. NDEs indeed appear to be “contagious” (Ring & Valarino, Het licht gezien, p. 175). They spread a “benign virus”, according to Ring. He concludes:
“Students express sentiments, feelings, values, and beliefs not unlike those demon-strated by individuals with an NDE [= NDE]. The same effects that individuals with NDEs attribute to their experience are, according to these students, induced in them by the stories and information about the experiences […] It seems as if some of the blessings of the NDE can be transferred to individuals who are or become interested in the NDE phenomenon, by presenting them with relevant information on the subject. The implications of this are far reaching” (Het licht gezien, p. 181).
The beneficial effects of NDEs in both a direct and indirect sense, that is, by either personally undergoing those experiences or hearing about them, is the subject of study in itself. Re-search on this has already been done by Flynn and Ring, among others, and it is clear that these effects occur. Consequently, the maieutics school considers it its duty to facilitate and promote education about NDEs and related experiences whenever possible. Such education could be offered through Internet courses and/or at specified locations. It is up to the free-dom and creativity of prospective teachers and students to contribute their own ideas for possible courses.
Authors such as Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn are trying to expand on Ring’s research, that is, to reduce the stories of NDEs to their essence and thereby make them accessible to outsiders. They conduct seminars and retreats all over the world on healing, recon-ciliation and personal growth. In the introduction to their 2016 book The Gifts of Near-Death Experiences (Dutch translation: Het ge-schenk van bijna-doodervaringen. Je hoeft niet te sterven om wonderen te ervaren) they pose some rhetorical questions for consideration.
“What would it be like if everyone had had an NDE? Would we still be fighting wars then? Would we then be able to consciously harm another human or living being, including the earth? What would happen to all the problems and pain that cause us so much stress? With addictions and obsessions, for example, with low self-esteem, grief because of the death of a loved one or our fear of death? All of these things can cause us to become emotionally stuck. And when we get emotionally stuck, we forget who we are. An NDE reminds us of this again” (Het geschenk van bijna-doodervaringen, p. 17).
If people were to become aware of the reality and content of the totality experience, either directly or indirectly, their lives could transform in significant ways. Ideally, such a trans-formation would take place within broad walks of life. The maieutics school aims to contribute to this.