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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 137 JULY 2010 / BACK
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Leo Buscaglia

–It's not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”

Leo F. Buscaglia (1924 -1998) was teaching in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s when one of his students committed suicide. She had been one of the sets of “kind eyeballs" he always looked for in the large auditorium, because her responses showed him that at least one student was hearing what he said, so the news that she killed herself had a great impact on him. ["What are we doing stuffing facts into people and forgetting that they are human beings?"] This incident led him to form a non-credit class titled Love 1A. There were no grades. (How could you potentially fail someone in this class? That wouldn't be very loving!) The class led to lectures and a manuscript loosely based on what was shared in those weekly classes. The book found a publisher – and an author surprised to find that the simple title LOVE had never previously been claimed, allowing him to say “I have the copyright on LOVE!" Buscaglia said he never taught this class, only facilitated it, adding that he learned as much as anyone. Someone from a Public Broadcasting System affiliate heard one of his talks and arranged to tape a later presentation, eventually showing it during a pledge drive. The response was so strong that it was presented to the national office for consideration. There was great resistance, because a professor simply standing at a podium lecturing was considered old-fashioned, something from the old days of “educational television." Still, the message and delivery were so compelling that they gave it a try, and Leo Buscaglia's warm presentations touched viewers' hearts through the cool medium of television nearly as effectively as they did in person. He has been called the “granddaddy of motivational speakers" on television. His simple message delivered in a dynamic style made him a popular guest on television talk shows, as well as on the lecture circuit. At one time five of his books were on The New York Times Best Sellers List simultaneously.

"Life is our greatest possession and love its greatest affirmation."

A Cheerleader for Life

Leo Buscaglia was a cheerleader for life. “Life is a banquet," he would say, quoting from the movie “Auntie Mame," “and most poor fools are starving to death." He was most closely associated with the topic of love and human relationships, emphasizing the value of positive human touch, especially hugs.

This association with hugging became his trademark at lectures, where thousands of people would stand patiently waiting to hug him after a presentation. It was not uncommon for him to give a talk of about an hour, then stay afterwards signing books and hugging for at least twice that long. This came about when someone spontaneously offered him a congratulatory hug following an early speech. A line formed, and it became an anticipated part of future events. Time restraints on occasion would dictate that those towards the end of the line would have to choose between a hug and an autograph. Nearly all chose the physical connection with this inspiring speaker. And he almost never left until he met everyone in line. Should someone be left out because they hadn't pushed to the front? Those would have been people he would have missed experiencing, he said, and that would have left him a lesser person.

“The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don't let them put you in that position.”


Born in Los Angeles, Felice Leonardo Buscaglia (he later inverted the initials) was the youngest of four children of Italian immigrants. He was raised Roman Catholic, and was influenced by Buddhism in his adult life. The combination of physically demonstrative love of life learned from his Mediterranean parents combined with the inner reflection learned from travels and studies in Asia served him well.

His childhood is well known to his listeners and readers; it provided many fable-like experiences that he shared throughout his work. Readers from many diverse cultures identified with these stories, being reminded of elements of their own upbringing. So many letters to him started similar to this: “Dear Leo, I hope I can call you that rather than Dr. Buscaglia because I feel as if I know you, as if we are friends." His “Mama stories" continue to be quoted by fans. [When someone would identify themselves to him as a “fan," he would invariably reply, “Don't be a fan. Fans are fickle and will soon drop you for something else. Be a friend. You can count on friends.") While other children were playing chase games, little Leo was playing school, always casting himself as the teacher, and always with willing pupils.

–It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”

He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. The slender young sailor did not see combat, but he certainly saw its aftermath in his duties in the dental section of the military hospital, helping to reconstruct shattered faces. Using the benefits of the G. I. Bill, he was able to go to the private University of Southern California after the war. His association with USC is somewhat unique in the academic world. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees there, and later became a faculty member. Upon his retirement, the university president named Buscaglia Professor at Large, an honorary title held by only one other person at that time. His non-credit Love 1A class was right for the times when it began in the late 1960s. He prepared a talk for educational conferences based on these sessions, which he wanted to call simply “Love".

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind
word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of
caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

The reaction to both his dynamic, evangelical delivery and the content was like nothing ever seen in educational circles, and Buscaglia became a popular educational conference presenter. This exposure led to speaking requests by colleges, and by other professional and business organizations.

Once these heartfelt talks were seen on national television they became the largest single money generators for PBS through much of the 1980s. While these presentations paved the way for many motivational speakers on PBS after him, Buscaglia never considered himself one of them. He was simply a teacher whose classroom had become the world.

Over eleven million copies of his books had been purchased in the U.S. by the time of his death by heart attack in 1998. Approximately 24 editions are available throughout the world. He was very pleased and surprised by the strong sales in Italy. He never imagined Italians would need an American to remind them of the importance of food, family, sharing and love of life, because he had learned these things from his Italian parents.

The study of love brought him to the study of life. “To live in love is to live in life, and to live in life is to live in love." But this should never be done passively. He wrote, “It's not enough to have lived. We should determine to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely." Only you will be able to discover, realize, develop and actualize your uniqueness. And when you do, it's your duty to then “give it away."

Written by Steven Short
Excerpted with permission from HOW TO GET A LIFE, edited by Lawrence Baines, Ph. D and Daniel McBryer, Ph.D, 2003 by Humanics

–Love is always open arms. If you close your arms about love you will find that you are left holding only yourself. “


An Interview with Veronica Hay

Veronica: You have dedicated yourself to the study of love for the past 25 years, written 13 books, produced various tapes and appeared often on public television. Why do you think you have chosen this adventure?

Leo Buscaglia: I don't think I chose it. I think it chose me! I was one of those fortunate individuals who grew up in a large, passionate, demonstrative Italian family where we were taught to love as naturally as we breathed and ate giant bowls of pasta! It was amazing to me that there were those around who had not been quite so fortunate. I could not help but wonder, “Is all lost for them?" Of course, in my search for this answer I discovered that since love is a learned phenomenon, it is never too late to learn to love.

Veronica: Would you tell us about your very famous “Love Class" and how it got started?

Leo Buscaglia: I started my Love Class as a result of the suicide of one of my most talented students. She showed no sign of her despair. Then one day she took her life. I had to ask, “What's the good of all our learning, knowing how to read and write and spell if no one ever teaches us the value of life, of our uniqueness, and personal dignity?" So I started my Love Class. I taught it free of salary and tuition just so students could have a forum to consider the truly essential things. I really didn't “teach" the class. I facilitated it – helping the students to discover their own magic.

Veronica: So many of the teachings, books, and songs, etc., all tell us the same thing, love is the answer. In the final analysis, love is the only thing that really matters. It is the only thing we take with us when we leave. Why then is it so difficult for many of us to realise this before it is too late?

Leo Buscaglia: Because we take love for granted. We assume we are all perfect lovers and all we need do is wait and our love will grow and blossom as readily as a flower in spring. Not so. Love doesn't grow unless we do. It takes patience, knowledge, experience, determination, and every positive trait we possess. In addition, love is always changing and unless we stay aware and change with it, it eludes us.

Veronica: Having the capacity to love is not the same as having the ability to love. Would you explain that?

Leo Buscaglia: We are all born with God-given, unique traits and skills. But, as with all possibilities they will remain unrealized unless they are developed, nurtured, and put into practice. You may have the “capacity" to love, but if left undeveloped, you will never gain the “ability."

Veronica: A life of love is..?

Leo Buscaglia: A life of love is one of continual growth, where the doors and windows of experience are always open to the wonder and magic that life offers. To love is to risk living fully.

Veronica: We hear a lot today about unconditional love. Are human beings really capable of that?

Leo Buscaglia: I don't believe in unconditional love. In fact, I think it's unwise. My love has had a condition that if ever my love keeps you from you, from your growing, and realizing your personal potential, then I must step aside. No one has the right to stand in the way of another's joy, development, or unique perceptions.

Veronica: Everything is interconnected. How does love relate to this truth?

Leo Buscaglia: We live in a small world. Not a leaf falls that doesn't effect a myriad of things. When we reach out to someone in love and the effect is made – everyone, everything which comes in contact with the person we've effected is better for it. Of course, the converse is true, too.

Veronica: You state in your book, Born For Love, that “It is when we ask for love less and begin giving it more that the basis of human love is revealed to us." Would you elaborate on that?

Leo Buscaglia: The essence of love is getting out of oneself and into others. When we care less about our feelings, our rights, our happiness, our security, etc., and begin to concern ourselves with the feelings, rights, happiness, and security of others, we will have found the true power of love.

Veronica:What are some simple every day things we would do to bring more love into our lives?

Leo Buscaglia: We can ask ourselves daily what we have done to make the world a better place, to make someone smile, to help someone to feel more secure, etc. It's the simple things which have the greatest effect. We must never underestimate the strength of a smile or act of kindness.

Veronica: How do we create healthy, loving relationships?

Leo Buscaglia: By caring enough to work on them as diligently as we would if we wanted to perfect a game of golf, or tennis, or become a gourmet chef. These things don't just happen. They require continual work. Yes, we are born for love, but it will die if not nurtured.

Veronica:You inspire a lot of people, Leo. What inspires you?

Leo Buscaglia: I, in turn, am inspired by other people. You can't imagine the joy I feel when I hear that something I've said or done or written has helped others to regain their sense of dignity, to motivate them to develop their unique potential, to encourage them to reach out to others in love.

Veronica:What is different now, 25 years later, in your study of love? What (in short), have you learned in all those years?

Leo Buscaglia: I have learned that love is the most powerful force available to us. When we have real love we have the strength to perform miracles.

Veronica:What would you like to be remembered for?

Leo Buscaglia: I'd like to be remembered for being a good, kind, loving, gentle man who attempted to live wisely, and who cared a lot.

Veronica: What are you up to these days, Leo?

Leo Buscaglia: I'm living more fully than ever and am discovering new magic every day. I have never felt so alive!

Veronica: Thank you Dr. Buscaglia.

Veronica Hay

–Nine times out of ten, when you extend your arms to someone, they will step in, because basically they need precisely what you need.”


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