To be completely honest, the title of this series does not agree with me. It makes no sense to think of love as a skill. To think of love in such a manner takes the mystery out of it and seems to reduce it to nothing more than a learned trait or ability. We romanticize love as something spontaneous which just happens and is uncontrollable, but maybe our idealization of love is why we experience a lack thereof. By definition, a skill is the ability to do something well, based upon one’s knowledge and practice. According to the Oxford dictionary, to practice is to perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to acquire, improve or maintain proficiency in it. Could it be because we haven’t been taught to practice the eight characteristics of love listed by Paul that we see so little of it in action in our everyday lives?
As I shared previously, the study of leadership and love based upon James C. Hunter’s The World’s Greatest Leadership Principle: How To Become A Servant Leader has provided a more practical application of Paul’s components of love than I have previously encountered. Hunter’s description of each of the eight characteristics have provided more of a mirror than I imagined into my own personal thoughts, motivations, and behaviors. Remember, Hunter defines love as the act of extending yourself for others by identifying and meeting their legitimate needs and seeking their great good. Defining love as an act indicates love is a verb and takes action. In short, love does. Love is not a feeling and not based on our feelings but is a choice we make and exhibit through our behaviors. In this post, I begin sharing each of those traits in more detail as explained by Hunter.
Patience is typically defined as displaying self-control and most commonly thought of as being seen in times of waiting. Hunter puts a different spin on patience by defining it more clearly as impulse control. An impulse is a strong desire or urge to act suddenly and reactively. Impulses are knee-jerk reactions displayed with little to no consideration of consequence to such reactions. Those given to impulses will generally offer excuses such as “This is just the way I am,” or “You know how I am” to excuse their out of control behavior when losing their temper or flying off the handle. To rely on such an excuse is a refusal to extend oneself for others. Practicing impulse control teaches us to respond not according to what we feel but according to what is the right thing to do. Patience makes us consistent and predictable in both mood and actions and causes us to be easy to be with and approachable. Paul describes this as forbearance and moderation in his letter to the Philippians and states this quality of our lives should be evident to all.
To gaze into the mirror of patience is to consider the memories of blowing it, losing your cool, and erupting in angry, volcanic outbursts. Even if the emotions behind the outbursts are truthful, justified, and legitimate, would you have responded in like fashion had you taken pause to understand and consider the damage such a reaction could cause to those on the receiving end? What if the recipient of your lack of patience were a VIP, dignitary, or someone whom you wished to impress? Would your response have been the same or would you have magically been able to control yourself and your impulses?
The common definition of kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Kindness requires us to reach out and extend ourselves by being courteous and listening well even to people we may not be particularly fond of. Hunter defines kindness as displaying common courtesy to others. By dubbing kindness the WD40 of relationships, he explains common courtesies are the little things that help relationships flow smoothly. Little things most of us would simply refer to as manners like saying “Please”, “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, “I was wrong”, or even “Good morning!”
Kindness is also about showing appreciation and encouragement to others. Hunter reminds us of the famous words of Mother Teresa, “People crave appreciation more than they crave bread.” Everyone wants to know they matter and are valued. Kind people are listening people. We’ve all been cut short in conversation and interrupted by others who simply can’t wait for us to stop speaking so they can say what’s on their mind. It’s obvious they aren’t listening as they nearly trip over the words they can’t wait to say. Taking a moment to pause and consider how devalued and under appreciated you feel in such circumstances will help lead you on the path to kindness towards others.
If love is truly the act of extending yourself and seeking someone’s greater good, patience and kindness must be the first steps of extension as they allow others to feel safe around us. It’s written perfect love drives out all fear. As we become known for our generosity and approachability, the fear of rejection will disappear. It will not always be easy or convenient to practice patience and kindness, but, just as athletes train for competition and musicians rehearse for a performance, the more we practice each of these skills, the more proficient we become.