I have really enjoyed reading the responses to this topic of discussion. (See Love)
It is interesting to see how differently each person responded to the question. There are different beliefs about love, its meaning, and its value, which influences how we view love in our relationships with children and youth we work with.
Just recently, I have attended the National Child and Youth Care conference in Calgary, where the word love was mentioned more than once. During one of the sessions, a presenter asked us to use different media to illustrate our single most important belief or principle or value in the field. Almost everyone had the most profound things to share, and so I was a little shy to voice mine...I sculpted a simple heart from play-doh representing my passion and my desire to love unconditionally. I am only a Child and Youth Care student, so some may say that I am too idealistic or naive, as I am very new in this field, but I refuse to think that. Love is the number one reason I am in this program. If it wasn't for the passion I feel inside, I would be somewhere else. I believe we are here to love- love God and others. Victor Hugo once wrote: "How wonderful it is to be loved, but how much greater to love." I want to dedicate my life to helping children find hope in their lives, helping them learn how to love and be loved, and lastly, helping them trust people again. When one loves, there is no room for anything else...
If we as Child and Youth Care counsellors cannot show children and youth love, how will they ever learn what love is and how to love? Love doesn't necessarily have to mean the same emotional bond one feels with his/her children, or a mushy emotion. It is more than that- it is a decision. A decision to put others ahead of yourself, to show respect, and to treat everyone equally. Even this decision, however, does not come naturally to humans. I believe that we need to know real love ourselves to be able to share it with others. Real love is unconditional love that is beyond humanity...
I am a social care lecturer in Ireland. I posed this question to our students last week: Is there a place for love in social care? The majority said no. In further discussion on the concept of love their opinion changed. I propose that love in care means unconditional care and affection, irrespective of an individual's past behaviours or experiences. It is displayed by the workers' willingness to 'go the extra mile ' for the service user.
I am a student in Melbourne, Australia, in Youth Work – Protective Care. I posed this question in class the other day and so it's great to hear that it was mentioned at the conference in your home town. Perhaps in the west we have a somewhat distorted view of the "L" word. And I agree with you, it is respect giving and a decision one makes to lead one's life so as to make others a priority. Easier said than done a lot of the time. Is respect the major factor in working with kids? And how do you talk about "love"? Is it only through actions and working in a certain way that one really can do justice to the backbone of life and the universe? Definitely a work in progress. But I love talking about love, so thanks for raising it.
I am wondering here though. Is there not a significant difference between what we call respect, unconditional care and affection, or any of those other words, and what we mean by 'love'? I'm thinking that love is a deeper, more fundamental and committed expression. I am thinking of when, for example, someone says they love the children they work with – I am thinking that in some way – poorly expressed here, no doubt – that it implies a position, or orientation of a person, towards other. And, in fact, does not even need the participation of other in order to exist. I know I am struggling here to define what I mean but I worry that we might throw out the idea of love, in exchange for some 'safer' words, like caring and respect (which I see as different), without really examining whether or not there is a place for love in the helping relationship with children and youth. Because it seems to me that there is a place for love in our work and maybe we would be well served to define what it is.
Jonathon Forbes here in London Ontario, where I work in children's mental health treatment centre.
This is a great question you pose. As a former youth minister, love is something i have spent some time thinking about, and how it informs my practice with the children I now work with. In this context it is interesting to see the absence of recognition of love. about the only time i hear about it, is with my colleagues in anecdotal comments about the lack of love in our client's family. "and isn't that too bad..."
Well I agree it is too bad, and so what can we do about it? we talk about teaching skills, modifying behaviour, addressing issues, and building rapport with our kids, but none of these address the core need of most of our kids. Which I believe is to know on some deep level that they are loved by someone. And yet this issue seems to be off limits, we talk about keeping a professional distance, about the need to be rationally detached, which seems to come from fear of accusations of sexual misconduct and crossing clinical boundaries. Yet sharing stories of care and trust, experiencing relationships where boundaries are appropriate, and talking about mystery, can be methods to teaching and demonstrating how love is important.
And for kids to identify love in their life can be
crucial to rebuilding their torn up lives. It can be that first step to
wholeness (the root word for holiness is the same). The kids I work with
each day can be more than they are, and talking and teaching about love can
help them get there. That is my job, and the greatest benefit is that each
day they teach me a little more about myself. Love is a beautiful thing.
Love has a very important place in youth care practice. For example when talking with some kids you may want to say "I love blackberry milkshakes!". As far as using the L word with in the context of serious conversation it may lead to confusion, misunderstanding and some very awkward explanations. I would rather talk about respect, consistency, helpfulness, safety, boundaries, limits, structure and words that we can give concrete expression to. I avoid words like trust and love. I will not ask kids to trust me nor do I ever say I love them. I have told kids in fact to not trust me. I don't set that as an expectation not a goal. If it happens that's great but I will act in a respectful, caring manner within the framework of the program structure. If I act in a predictable way that the kids come to expect and know that I will keep them safe and always be respectful this may be the best I can hope for. The word Love I avoid unless it is just talking about the abstrct concept where I have no personal stake in the converstion. I may come close when talking about things I very much enjoy doing, walking on the beach, having fun with my family, etc. Though the L word may never be spoken.
Firstly, I commend the sentiment but would have to say that I would prefer that the word love be qualified prior to arguing the response. Secondly, unconditional "love" to me is not appropriate phrase to conjure in relation to children in care. Unconditional care, concern, value, respect – all of which are prerequisites of effective intervention in human services should be listed in job descriptions as all of these are tangible and measurable and can be translated into actions for accountability.
I am sure that I am not the only Child and Youth Care worker who has said 'I love that young person'. For the sake of sanity and professionalism, there has, however, to be a qualitative difference between this statement and that which says 'I love my life-partner' or 'I love my birth-child'. With life-partners and birth-children, there is a legitimate expectation of some degree of reciprocity -(even if this, at some stage confounded by circumstance/behaviour). With the young people with whom we work, whose past experience has given them little or no reason to trust adults and make reciprocal investment in relationships, we need to show them unconditional positive regard, send them powerful messages that their development/success/future really matters to us but, for their sake, and ours, we should not burden them with our disappointment when they foul-up – as they will do occasionally! It's a hard row to hoe – love them to bits but don't expect to get it back in any form that you would recognise from your personal relationships!
On love ... I know this for me ... if I love what I do and love who I be then what I do and how I be will express love. If I had an inability to speak and therefore verbal communication was eliminated from my skill set, could I still be effective in care work? Could I still be clear in my intent if I didn't have the choice to choose certain words over others? I can change how I shape-shift love for treatment optics but I know when I don't love something my relational effectiveness reflects it. I am not a creature in this field and I am not going to disguise that I love being with people. However I have scared the jeepers out of people in using the "L" word. So I have been transitioning a word "Spirit". I have been defining it as "one's propensity or ability to find gratitude in experiences", versus what is right or wrong or good or bad. Do I believe that spirituality is an important treatment component to consider, yes I do. Not unlike, physical health, emotional well being, financial, social, educational, career, & family factors, et al.
When I don't love something, I approach it significantly different than if I do love it.
I like what D.H. Lawrence had to say about love: "You love me so much, you want to put me in your pocket. And I shall die there smothered." – from Sons and Lovers.
Funny to me love is one thing the differences usually can be attributed to other contexts in the relationship. Love, mercy, respect, forgiveness are a few things we give away. With no expectation of return. They do return many fold. It is these things we role model to people we work with whether they are a peer or someone we are taking care of temporarily.
There are many things that the word "love" tries to communicate. I rarely use that word with kids because of all the screwed up things it can mean. Some people "love" a certain chair or pair of shoes because of how comfy they are. This is "because of" love. If, on the other hand, we "love" a child in spite of their nastiness to us, we are demonstrating "in spite of" love. I aim to love the kids in my life in spite of how they treat me, rather than because of how they treat me.
Finally, I must respond. I do believe that love says more about the lover than the beloved. Seems to me that Caring is plenty good enough. If and when I/we accomplish that, I hope I do not need to seek more in emotional relationship with those I am paid to care for.
I fear that my earlier response may have been misinterpreted as cynical. That was not my intention. Yana's response yesterday has, in some ways, given me a better handle on what I was trying to achieve. I firmly believe that we should love the children and young people with whom we work, and this includes the components of respect, mercy and forgiveness that Dan included in his reply. What concerns me is when workers become over-invested emotionally with children and young people and are then devastated when one 'fouls up' or does something which is personally hurtful to the worker. When that happens, Yana is right to say that '...love says more about the lover than the beloved.' Our commitment is to try to meet the emotional needs of the children and young people with whom we work. We do them, and ourselves, a disservice if we expect reciprocity and are wounded when this doesn't happen.
All of this hubbub about whether or not love has a place in the human service field appears to arise from varied personal definitions of the word. If there were one true definition of love, I suspect that most professionals would agree one way or the other about its appropriateness or inappropriatness in the field. It seems to me that boundary-setting, be it within a family setting or a professional setting, is more at issue here than love is. In my humble opinion, Alice Forsyth's response yesterday hit the mark beautifully.
I have been following this thread with considerable interest. In my own thinking and writing about youth work- love is crucial. As someone interested in the revolutionary political force of youth-adult relations I am always reminded that Che Guevara said "Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." I have been trying to make sense of this quote for some time, particularly in a world in which love and relationship are so badly fragmented and intruded upon by the forces of exchange and profit. It seems to me that to think love, as a revolutionary act, requires that one examine the entire foundation of the individual self and its fears and boundaries. I don't think love can be a revolutionary force as long as it is built on anxiety and withholding. In this sense, to love in my work demands a final giving up of my private self; that self which I sustain as a bastion of security and safety from the realities of my own life. To give one's self up is, in my opinion a revolutionary act of love. Not romantic modern love with all its attendant parasites but love as full expenditure; as absolute creative force without fear. Or as the philosopher Spinoza would have it, the love of God, or in another term the love of all potential creative force.
For me this is the driving engine of the community that
can be built between youth and adults that goes beyond the stifled
constraints of bourgeoisie institutionalized child and youth care. This is
where the power of the work lies. The philosopher Antonio Negri said "By
loving universality and constituting it as a project of reason across
subjects, one becomes powerful. If, by contrast, one loves the particular
and acts only out of interest, one is not powerful but rather completely
powerless". In this sense, I would argue we must become fearless in our love
if we wish to access the immense potential power for a new world to come
found in the relations between those subjectivities we call youth and
Child and Youth Studies
Hans Skott-Myhre, your response, particularly the quote from Che Guevara, was like the missing piece in my interpretation and possibly my understanding of this thread. Several classes and years ago, this topic was broached in a Child and Youth Care third year class, and I stood alone extolling the need to love the children with whom we worked. Some time later as I worked on an adolescent psych unit, I again stood alone in my belief that loving the child was integral to the work we were doing. Since then, I've been reticent about the topic.
Two things prompted my response – your post and a
letter – a love letter if you will – that I received today from a now
adjusted, fairly successful adult who as an adolescent had challenged my
belief that it was necessary to love the youth with whom we worked.
Challenged, in that I stood alone in my fearless love for the young teenager – always expecting good from her, always giving – even when it seemed
impossible. In essence never giving up on her by loving without hope of
reciprocity. Her letter thanked me for seeing something worthwhile in her
life, something worth saving. I honestly don't know how she tracked me down
because I now live in a different country. The point is however, when all is
said and done, that this woman knew that she was loved at a time when she
most needed it, and that it made the difference in her life. Thank you for
your post and the opportunity to share my 'love letter'
I was reading Face to Face With Children this morning and came across the following which somehow seems germane to the current discussion on love in the helping relationship. In talking about the motive in Social Work, Clare Winnicott offers the following, "The direct motive, therefore, is not punitive or educational, or to make the children healthier: it is the simple straightforward motive of attempting to meet their need for love and happiness. The power, therefore, expresses the love and parental responsibility that exists in society towards children."
(Kanter, J. (ed) 2004. Face to face with children: The life and work of Clare Winnicott. Karnac: London. pp 149.)
When looking at this concept I feel that there is a place for love in Social Work as well as Child and Youth Care. I would also pose this question: why is it we are comfortable saying we love our friends and our jobs but not in reference to the youth we come into contact with? We may not love them as our own but as with any that are within our lives for a substanTial period of time (and often these youth are) do they not deserve the same consideration? How do we model love if we ourselves would deny it. Bottom line for me, there are many different definitions of love and seeing everyone needs to be loved perhaps starting with us will they learn if nothing else the kind that begins when one enters any kind of relationship. Something to definitely think on to say the least.