What’s Love Got to Do With It?

8 Feb


An early Valentine’s Day post. This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about for years but seldom speak about and have never (as far as I can remember) written about. One reason it is hard to write and speak about love is that there are so many definitions of this single word and it is used to mean so very many things.

But let’s pretend we all know what we’re talking about here, and I’ll just go ahead; you can decide for yourself (as always) whether this post resonates with you or not. As they say in 12 step groups, “take what you like and leave the rest.”

I have begun to believe, after all these years talking about highly and profoundly gifted individuals, that love has pretty much everything to do with it. We speak of kids who have a “rage to learn,” of kids who have a “passion” (sometimes permanent, often ephemeral) for a subject or a project or a system or a field of study. We’ve seen kids “on fire” to explore something new, who are driven from within to understand, to investigate some mystery or other, who can’t bear to put down a book before they’ve finished it. What is it that we’re seeing? Love.

We’ve seen kids who are traumatized by news broadcasts that show images of man’s inhumanity to man, or to animals, or to the Earth itself. We often explain that trauma by saying they feel innately “connected” to humanity, other living beings, and their home planet. When kids become distraught over bullying or conflict on the playground, even when they themselves are not the target, or protest practices they consider unfair, we call it “empathy.” We could call that, too, love.

Parents have told me of children who “hate” a school subject nevertheless willingly putting time and effort into that subject, or children who make it through an entire school year with few complaints even when—as in the “awful” years—there was almost nothing new or challenging to learn, just because they “like” the teacher. Love, again. The best mentors we find for children with a passion for a subject are adults who share that same passion. The relationship that develops between subject, child and adult—love.

It is often said that as individuals, we cannot fully love another until we are able to love ourselves. Years ago my son said that I should give up the effort of trying to make anyone “feel sorry” for gifted kids, because people see them as having so much more going for them in life. And of course, in one way it is true—they have greater than average capacities that could lead them to the achievement and success so valued in our culture. But they’re also children, trying to figure out who they are in a world that makes it quite clear that whoever they are, they “don’t fit.” How do they learn to love themselves?

Highly gifted kids often suffer the whiplash that comes from systems that aren’t able or don’t wish to really challenge them to give their best, yet at the same time demand perfection in all things—“if you’re so bright, why can’t (or don’t) you…?” If they do shine when challenged, and rejoice in that (as is natural and only fair), they may be accused of arrogance, and if they don’t shine as they and others expect, they feel and may be treated like failures. And in cases where parents are overly invested in their children’s unusual or extreme gifts kids may feel they are loved not for who they are, but solely for what they do; that does not feel like love! A girl once told me that her parents were so insistent that she become a brilliant concert violinist (because she had the talent) that by the age of 15, she still had no idea what she loved to do, because she’d never been allowed the time to explore anything else.

We live in a world that doesn’t much like the word “gifted,” because it seems to mean that God or the Fates, or Life or the Universe has bestowed a gift on some minority of individuals, a gift that has been withheld from everybody else. The backlash is in the often heard (and often disputed) statement “All children are gifted.” I’ve argued against that statement myself, over and over again, usually by using an analogy: “all children have height, but not all children are tall.”

But my own belief about humanity is that every single child and every single adult has value, has a vital place in the world. As a fiction writer, I am aware that every character in a novel or even a vast, sprawling saga, is there for a reason and has a part to play in the story. And science has shown us that each human being is unique. Even among identical twins, there are no two identical human beings.

At the same time all of us belong to a larger oneness, the web of life, the interconnectedness of all things—all of us are, as some have said, “star stuff.” It is a paradox, this individuality and oneness.

It seems likely to me that every individual is born with the capacity for love of one kind or another, though the direction of that love is individual. My husband truly loved to do crossword puzzles. For me doing a crossword puzzle is about as enjoyable as sticking a needle in my eye. But both of us loved words and the stories they can create. We followed that love in different ways.

Consider a change in terminology. What we call “gifts,” could also be thought of as “loves.” Now imagine an education in which love really did have everything to do with it. Imagine, instead of categorizing and grouping children by their abilities, we were to purposely set out to help them find what it is they love and then to support that, even as we help them learn what else they’re likely to need on their life journey. What would that change? How would such a world look?

The symbol of Valentine’s Day is, of course, the heart. Gifted children are often expected (or even required) to “live in their heads,” and when we focus relentlessly on their intellects, we teach them to value that shard of who they truly are more than any other. The HeartMath Institute has shown that the human heart’s energy field is very much larger than the brain’s, and that learning to create coherence between brain and heart is beneficial not only to the individual, but to those around them. Far from competing, our heads and hearts work best together, energizing us and allowing access to ways of knowing and connecting seldom tapped or even recognized in education. It shouldn’t surprise us, by the way, that a standard method of creating heart-brain coherence is to focus on an image or memory that evokes love.

We could use 364 more days to focus on the heart, and to acknowledge what Love has to do with it!

Meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you wish to explore the findings of the HeartMath Institute further, you might start here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/QdneZ4fIIHE


9 Responses to “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

  1. indiecita February 8, 2015 at 6:25 pm #

    This is a wonderful post, and so important coming from one of our foremost gifted education advocates. As the parent of a gifted child, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the pitfalls you describe: overly invested parents, kids who don’t have an opportunity to discover what lights them up, pitting one group of children against another for funding. YES, Love-based education for all is what is needed. Start a movement – I’m right there with you.

  2. Stef February 8, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    I’m not an “activist,” but I will put my words out for whatever use they can be. My heart would more than support such a movement.

  3. Barbara February 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm #


    LOVE this post. It’s going to faculty and parents tomorrow.


    • Stef February 8, 2015 at 8:29 pm #


      On Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 7:56 PM, The Deep End wrote:


  4. Amy Lobner February 9, 2015 at 5:43 am #

    Wow – I really enjoyed and connected with your post. The marriage (ohh – a love word!) between a gifted kid and the thing that makes them light up is really the goal – right? Your point with teachers and kids connecting (and that is love) hits home too. The right teacher -student match and these often misplaced kids find a safe place to shine. I spend a lot of time telling my kids that some of their “gifts” don’t seem like it now – because the combination of a really smart kid that is super sensitive does not make a popular 4th grader, but will make an extraordinary pediatrician (his passion is kids and medicine). With renewed energy I will nurture the heart of my blessings. Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

  5. Stef February 9, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    One of our sons had exactly that passion, and became a noted pediatric infectious disease specialist, much valued by families, students and colleagues. The love part can help them contend with the intensity of actual life in a world that does *not* so much value their passion.

  6. Madredegifted February 10, 2015 at 5:19 am #

    Yes. All hits home. Our child who has this passion for animals and their preservation. At 4 while reading about mammals got to a page where it showed the last taken picture of the extinct Thylacine by extreme hunting in Australia. He burst in tears and said “why! now I will never get to meet one! Why did they do this?”…and then when read in the news about the white lion in some other country, getting close to extinction…He created this plan to go there and rescue them; a special “features”cage to catch the few left and bring them home safe. Let’s go there mom, I am ready, let’s pack.!.me? Speechless. Overwhelmed with this mixed feelings of pride, love and sadness. Admiring his initiative, courage, awareness, kindness, his beautiful innocence.
    This passion, this love, is our inspiration. This is what keep us in track with our journey to advocate and provide for them what they deserve. This is the love and awareness that brings change into the world.

  7. Stef February 10, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    Yes. Sometimes that love/passion hurts–but that pain can motivate us to choose a difficult path and effect change in the world.


  1. How To Avoid Accusations of Inequality: Share the Heart of Giftedness | Wenda Sheard, J.D. Ph.D. - February 16, 2015

    […] savoring Newbery Honor Book author and gifted expert Stephanie Tolan’s recently essay, What’s Love Got to Do With It?  In the essay, […]

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