Love has no off-switch: it’s not about like or dislike. Love can help us see that people are beautiful.
We learned of the death of our dear Pip Wilson overnight (Friday 22 September). We will pay our tributes to him in the coming days, but for today we’re sharing the reflection he contributed to FIFTY : A Greenbelt Lexicon, the book we published this summer to mark our 50th anniversary.
You are a Beautiful Human Person as you read this.
You are a valuable person,
You are a special person,
You are a unique person,
You are beautiful.
You are unrepeatable, and You are mysterious.
You are a Beautiful Human Person.
No one will ever exist like you.
No one will ever experience the life that you have experienced.
You are a collection of specialness that has never been put together before.
You are loved.
I believe people are beautiful; but many of us do not believe we are. Beautiful is not a word we would ever apply to ourselves. Perhaps we have become trapped in a certain idea of physical beauty and, comparing ourselves to others, decide we are not beautiful.
It’s not difficult to miss the beautiful. In my life I have worked with many challenging people — young offenders, gang members, people working the streets, in constant trouble with the police. In the cells under the courts of the Old Bailey in London it’s not difficult to see the ugly side of a life.
Our instinct in the face of obnoxious behaviour or a threatening attitude is to walk away. But when you see a person’s behaviour you cannot see their journey. You cannot see their upstream. Someone’s behaviour can trigger feelings in us that lead us to like or dislike them and if we see only the behaviour, we tend to move away from people, to avoid relationships with them.
But I’ve learned that we have to notice someone’s behaviour, to accept our feelings about it, and then to see beyond that behaviour. This is what the decision to love can do. Love has no off-switch: it’s not about like or dislike. Love can help us see people beyond our feelings of like or dislike. Love can help us see that people are beautiful.
If we’re triggered by someone’s challenging behaviour or language, we don’t have to rush to judgement about them. Instead we can train ourselves to allow that moment of bad behaviour to trigger love in us. It’s a skill we can practise, learning how to empathise with the beautiful human behind the behaviour.
It was when I began to remind myself that everyone is made in the image of the Divine that I began to understood there are no bad people, only bad behaviour. I may never know why that image is messed up in me, or in them, but I do know they’re beautiful.
That understanding changed everything for me. I began to see the beautiful, not just the behaviour. And when you look for the beautiful, when you see and treat people as beautiful, their own innate beauty becomes more obvious. And when we accept and affirm the beauty in each other, all of our behaviour may change.
When the Irish writer John O’Donohue spoke at Greenbelt, we used to meet in the bar at the hotel late at night for a cigar and a whisky. John said that the Greek word for ‘beauty’ is related to our word ‘call’ or ‘calling’. When we experience beauty, he said, we feel called. As I always say, everyone is a Beautiful Human Person. You are a Beautiful Human Person.