Day #366: Leo Buscaglia on Why Love Is a Learned Language

I just read an intriguing and eye opening article about Leo Buscaglia’s in Love: What Life Is All About

Love might be one of the most quintessential capacities of the human condition. And yet, for all our understanding and poetic dissection  of it, we greatly underestimate the extent to which this baseline capacity — much like those for language, motion, and creativity — is a dynamic ability to be mastered and cultivated rather than a static state to be passively beheld. Despite everything we know about learning and the psychology of deliberate practise to achieve mastery in any endeavour, we remain  naive about the practice of love, approaching it instead with the magical-thinking expectation that we’re born excellent at it.

Citing famous cases, both folkloric and factual, of human children raised by animals outside civilization, Buscaglia notes that just like we “learn” to be human, we also learn to love. He points to the research of various psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, anthropologists, and educators, who have indicated that love is a “learned response, a learned emotion,” and laments a fundamental cultural disconnect:

Most of us continue to behave as though love is not learned but lies dormant in each human being and simply awaits some mystical age of awareness to emerge in full bloom. Many wait for this age forever. We seem to refuse to face the obvious fact that most of us spend our lives trying to find love, trying to live in it, and dying without ever truly discovering it.

My favourite part in Buscaglia’s dissection of this topic is where he says:

Love is a learned, emotional reaction. It is a response to a learned group of stimuli and behaviors. Like all learned behavior, it is [affected] by the interaction of the learner with his environment, the person’s learning ability, and the type and strength of the reinforcers present; that is, which people respond, how they respond and to what degree they respond, to his expressed love.

Love is a dynamic interaction, lived every second of our lives, all of our lives.

Whether we know it or not, what we know about love is what our society, media, parents or people who have had an influence on us have represented to us as love. Like any other human characteristic or skill, we have to learn to love. We need to step back and appraise how we have learnt this characteristic and how it affects us and how we interact with life.

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