What We Learned from Leo Buscaglia

Recently we were house-sitting a friend’s lovely home when I noticed that he had an old video of Leo Buscaglia speaking in Chicago. I eagerly put on the video and, as I watched our dear friend, a flood of memories came back.

Barry and I were 24 years old when we moved to Los Angeles for Barry to complete medical school and for me to enter graduate school at USC. How blessed I was to discover that my main professor for the year would be Leo Buscaglia. And by “coincidence” we found a cheap apartment just two doors down from his home. Thus Barry and I found our first mentor and a man who would change our lives in a very powerful, positive way. We got to see him every day, have dinners and take walks together for two years. After this special time with him he published his book, “Love” which became an instant best seller. Almost overnight he became the most famous speaker and author in the country. At one time he had five books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

When we met Leo, we were quiet, unassuming, rather conventional young people. Here was Leo going around hugging everyone in a time in our country when no one hugged anyone and if you did you were considered weird. His classes were outrageously fun and the exams he gave filled you with giggles. What I admired most about him was his habit of seeing beauty in people and then telling them what he saw. Everyday for a year I saw him and everyday he saw some new aspect of my beauty. Day by day he was changing my perception of myself. I saw myself as a shy person who was inferior to just about everyone. Leo saw beauty, strength, determination, joy, love and an ability to make a difference in this world. Several months into this daily dose of love and appreciation, I began to believe him and I felt happy and full of purpose. He helped to put my footsteps on a path that I am still on today.

During my graduate training with Leo I felt so grateful for the change that he was bringing about in me that I wanted to give this feeling to others. I had my opportunity. Barry’s cousin a year ahead of him at medical school came to have dinner with us. I had known this man for over a year and felt quite close to him. I started appreciating him and pointing out his strengths and beauty. No response!! He didn’t smile at me, he didn’t look at me, he didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken at all. He got up and walked out of the room. Shame surged through me. I must have done something wrong. Maybe Leo was the only one who could do that for people. I vowed to not make such a mistake again. Nothing was said of that incident though I saw this man several times again. He graduated and moved to the east coast for residency. We visited with him one year after my “mistake.” We were taking a walk when he said, “Do you remember that night when you appreciated me?” My face turned red and I felt the shame return. “Well,” he said, “Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I had no idea how to respond, so I said nothing. I went into therapy to discover why I had acted so strange that night. I realized that for my entire life no one had ever really pointed out beauty in me. Your pointing it out has been the beginning of an amazing journey into my true beauty. How can I thank you enough.”

I learned that I don’t have to have the pizzazz that Leo had, but just to be myself and point out beauty in people when I feel it in my heart. The energy of appreciation is never lost, but can be a seed that grows in the heart over time. This path has brought me so much meaning in my life.

Is there someone in your life that you could appreciate, perhaps your children, parents, partner, friends, employees or even your boss? Seeing beauty and appreciating another is a gift that can last a lifetime. You could start right now.

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