There is a lot of confusion in our culture about how to define love and what it looks like. We use the word “love" to express how we feel about our parents, friends, pets, sports teams and even our favorite foods. In the current “hook-up" culture, some kids are having sex with others they barely know, mostly because they find them physically or socially attractive, and calling that love. There is a lack of clarity about what is required for Human Love at its finest.
At Boys Town, we teach love. Our #TeachLove initiative is our unique way of spreading the positive message of choosing love over hate and acceptance over intolerance. Many of our kids have been abused and mistreated and have never experienced real love. Our Family-Teachers, schoolteachers and other members of our direct care staff coach our kids on the skills and behaviors to #TeachLove and are expected to demonstrate these values and character traits to the kids in our programs.
When we teach love, we explain what true Human Love should look like. Our philosophy is that adults who love you do three things:
- Loving Adults Know You Well. Boys Town believes that to truly love kids, you must get to know them. Our Family-Teachers, Assistant Family-Teachers and all other staff members work hard to learn about each and every one of our kids. They want to know how each one grew up, what they want for their future and what they will need to be successful. While we teach a core set of social skills, we also create a unique plan of care for each of our kids that meets their individual needs.
- Loving Adults See the Best in You. Father Flanagan taught us that, “There are no bad boys; only bad environment, bad training, bad example." We follow that philosophy today. It is not easy to create that kind of environment. Adults are naturally talented at catching kids misbehaving or “being bad." If you filled a room with a thousand kids, any adult would have no problem spotting and describing the behavior of the few kids who were behaving badly. But it requires a commitment and extensive training to help adults learn to see the best in kids and describe their good behavior accurately – or what we call “catching them being good." The social skills we teach our kids are descriptions of good behavior. At Boys Town, we use a motivation system that includes point cards to help kids see that they do lots of good and bad things in a day. We also make sure the adults are not just focusing on the bad. It is only when adults can truly see and effectively praise kids for their positive behaviors that the adults become good examples of true Human Love.
- Loving Adults Hold You Accountable. If you know a kid well and see the good in them, it follows that you would want them to live up to their “best" by holding them accountable. We often see kids who can behave well some of the time, but it is our job to build on that foundation and help our kids learn to control themselves and demonstrate good behavior most of the time. This is where most adults fail in their relationships with kids. It's hard to hold kids accountable. It requires energy and strength and a deep desire for that kid to become the person they were meant to be. But if you don't hold kids responsible, you are not really loving them. This doesn't mean that you chain kids to their poor choices and misbehaviors for life and “make them pay" forever. No, Boys Town is all about recognizing and admitting mistakes, apologizing, starting over and trying again and again. The high standards you set remain the same because you love kids enough to help them live up to those standards and realize their full potential.
The amazing thing about Human Love is that it is also a great way to learn about God's Love. Like Human Love, God's Love involves three things:
- God Knows Us. God knows us better than any human ever will. Since the day we were conceived in our mother's womb, God has seen everything we've ever done, said or thought; even those that we've so carefully hidden from others (Psalm 139). Despite seeing everything, God still loves us.
- God Sees the Best in Us. Because God worked with our parents to create us, God can clearly see all that is good in us. That's because God put it there! Everything that is good within us reflects God's best qualities: intelligence, compassion, strength, beauty and even love. God gives us these things so that we can give them back to the world. Each one of us is a unique combination of some of God's best qualities that the world desperately needs right now.
- God Holds Us Accountable. If you read the teachings of any religion, you see that they call us to a high standard of behavior. From The Ten Commandments, where Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to the Buddhist call to enlightenment, we are held to high standards that are tough to reach. Of course, God forgives us when we fail, but that doesn't make the standards any lower.
So, I urge you to be careful and avoid throwing around the word “love" carelessly. Correctly understood and demonstrated, Love is extremely powerful. It can change you, those you love and the world around you.