What Love Is
Bernie Siegel


What are you devoted to?  The answer determines what kind of life you will have and how much joy you will find.

When I devote myself to changing other people, I have endless problems.  I am compelled to correct them.  I feel I have to criticize them when they aren't helpful and loving enough, or when they aren't spiritual enough or don't clean up after themselves.  Improving the world by trying to improve other people is hard work that leaves me feeling lousy.  In the end, no one, not even me, lives up to my expectations.

Loving means devoting yourself to people, but not to changing them.  When I devote myself to the people in my life all our lives improve.  While I am telling them how to meet my expectations, no one is happy.  As soon as I accept them as they are and start caring about them and trying to make their lives easier, everyone is happier and wonderful things start happening.

Joseph Campbell told a story about overhearing a man in a restaurant telling his child how to eat.  "Why don't you let him do what he wants to do?" the man's wife asked.

"Because I've never done anything I wanted to do in my life," the man answered.

Campbell contrasted that story with a passage in Sinclair Lewis's novel Babbitt. In Lewis's story, a young man decides not to go to college.  He wants to get married and get a factory job because he likes working with his hands.  His family is giving him a hard time about his decision, but his father takes him aside and tells him he has never done anything he wanted to do in his life.  Now, even though the father isn't happy with the son's choices, he tells him that he admires his decision to live his life the way he wants to live it.  Then he puts his arm around his son and they go back into the room to face the family.  I gave a copy of that passage to every one of our five children.

The more children you have, the harder it is to direct everyone's actions.  With five children, you are too busy to tell everyone what to do and it is easier just to watch them grow and blossom.

Our oldest son once asked why I treated the younger children differently than I'd treated them at their age:  "How come they don't have to do what I had to do?"

"Because I've learned that a lot of the things I asked you to do aren't important."  Then I apologized for my inexperience as a father.  He accepted my apology because my newfound wisdom made his life easier, too.

Today I am amazed at the things our children have done and their wide range of interests.  They are all living their lives and not the ones I would have planned for them.  But I have learned their lives are theirs, not mine, and in living their own lives they have given me experiences and an education I would never have had if I'd been fool enough to make them do what I thought they should do.

What are you devoted to?  Think about someone in your family whom you love.  How do you behave towards this person?  Think about your actions over the past few days.  Are you trying to change her and improve her?  Or are you watching her grow and enjoying her and trying to make her life easier?

Prescriptions for Living
Bernie S. Siegel

A nice look at life from a formerly anal-retentive doctor who shaved his head, changed his name from "Dr. Siegel" to Bernie, and actually started caring for his patients. He learned more from the change than they did.


In my early professional years I was asking the question:
How can I treat, or cure, or change this person?  Now I would
phrase the question this way:  How can I provide a relationship
which this person may use for his or her own personal growth?

Carl Rogers


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