S. Kent Butler, ACA’s 70th president

Love wants nothing in return. It is simply love, an unconditional gift that is shared without expectation. Seeing others transformed by your love is reward enough. Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke to the very nature of love when he shared that “we are each made for goodness, love and compassion. Our lives are transformed as much as the world is when we live with these truths.”

Sam Gladding knew of this love, stating after traveling to New York to counsel individuals dealing with the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy that the experience “strengthened my faith in regard to the goodness of people and the kindness of people and the generosity of individuals.” Catherine Roland knew love and embraced positivity as her mantra. Like Sam, she was impacted by world affairs and encouraged folks to love and not hate, to not be driven by ignorance, and to find our way back to civility.

I have been deeply encouraged by other words of wisdom that Desmond Tutu shared over the years. He spoke with such authority, and it is clear that his messages came from his heart and soul. He was dedicated to advancing our humanity. Like Tutu, the late Clemmont E. Vontress, a pillar in the counseling community, knew love, as evidenced by his belief that culture and race could transcend counseling when culturally responsive counselors embraced their clients’ humanity. He stated that “counselors must concern themselves with the human condition in general before addressing the specifics of the client’s culture because people are more alike than they are dissimilar.”

I am certain that when Tutu stated that “your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value,” he was imploring us to do better. It was his incredible way of letting us know that each of us must commit to changing the world and that when we do the right thing, ultimately we will find that “nothing is too much trouble for Love.” In fact, we need to reevaluate how we see love. As Tutu wrote, “We tend to think love is a feeling, but it is not. Love is an action; love is something we do for others.”

I am sure this is how Sam Gladding, Catherine Roland and Robert Smith saw love as well. Each of these ACA past presidents passed away in 2021, but their legacies all leave a mark showcasing how much each loved the counseling profession. Robert, who was proud to work at a Hispanic-serving institution, believed that a graduate degree not only changed a student but also transformed a generation.

Author and activist bell hooks knew love as well. Through her feminist identity, bell made the bold statement that love does not inflict harm on the self or on others. Much like our counselor’s creed, agape love will “Do no harm.” She shared that “when we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist.” 

I love bell. She was radical, and she spoke the truth! In her book Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom, bell wrote that “it is the most radical intervention anyone can make to not only speak of love, but to engage in the practice of love. For love as the foundation of all social movements for self-determination is the only way we create a world that domination and dominator thinking cannot destroy. Anytime we do the work of love we are doing the work of ending domination.” 

This February, let’s end the need to possess others, control their narratives and selfishly use fear to harm their growth and development. I want to let bell’s words close out my column this month, because — as the great voices elsewhere in this column echo — they resonate deeply and promise us hope for the future. I will cherish all that their wisdom has taught me. “To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients — care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.” I am a big proponent of society embracing difficult and truthful dialogues. She goes on to state that “as we love, fear necessarily leaves.” Profound words that I believe, in conjunction with action, will heal our nations. 

In All About Love: New Visions, bell challenges us to choose love: “When we choose to love we choose to move against fear — against alienation and separation. The choice is to connect — to find ourselves in the other.” How beautiful would that be to find ourselves in one another. 

Powerful! #ShakeItUp and #TapSomeoneIn.