Reflections on the “Art of Loving”

What is love?

This question has inspired many writers and singers, philosophers and psychologists. Everybody seems to want it and many admit to not really knowing it.

We can learn to love. This is the hopeful message that Erich Fromm gave in his book “The Art of Loving”, first published in 1956. When I first read this book, 25 years ago, it had a big impact on me. As I revisit it, I can see how still today this book has great relevance and offers guidance and hope for better human relationships. In the following I want to summarize the main points of this classic, using significant quotes.

The majority of people believe that love is “a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one ‘falls into’ if one is lucky” (1){Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, New York, N.Y.: Harper Collins Publishers, 1956-89; The number in brackets indicate the page number of the quotes} . Therefore “hardly anyone thinks that there is anything that needs to be learned about love” (1).

“Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable.”(1) In our culture, being lovable means, being attractive in terms of outer appearance, and popular in terms of power, success and wealth. Evidence for this can be seen when you look at advertising. People nowadays seem overly preoccupied with what they look like, how they appear to others, what image they project. Attractiveness seems to secure love. But does it really?

“People think that to love is simple, but that to find the right object to love – or to be loved by – is difficult.” (2) ‘Are you the right one for me?’ or, ‘Will I find someone better, more compatible, more attractive to be with?’ are questions that focus on the other as an object. It makes partners replaceable and relationships an investment that may have good or poor returns.

“The third error leading to the assumption that there is nothing to be learned about love lies in the confusion between the initial experience of ‘falling’ in love, and the permanent state of being in love, or as we might better say, of ‘standing’ in love.” (4) The experience of falling in love is “by its very nature not lasting. The two persons become well acquainted, their intimacy loses more and more its miraculous character, until their antagonism, their disappointments, their mutual boredom kill whatever is left of the initial excitement. Yet, in the beginning they do not know all this: in fact, they take the intensity of the infatuation, this being ‘crazy’ about each other, for proof of the intensity of their love, while it may only prove the degree of their preceding loneliness. ” (4)

“There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.” (4) The first step to overcome the failures of love “is to become aware that love is an art” (5), which can be learned.

For Fromm, love is the answer to the problem of human existence. Beginning with birth, being separated from the blissful state of union, we suffer from separation. “The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety. Being separate means being cut off, without any capacity to use my human powers.” (8 ) This reminds me of the Homoeopathic understanding of the cause of disease: “The basis from which disease springs is separation, that we have a sense, feeling or an illusion of being separate from the source or God.” {Elisabeth Fink, Mirrors and Miracles, Gestalt Dialogue # 3, Nov. 95} Our most profound driving force, our deepest need is “to overcome .. separateness, to leave the prison of .. aloneness.” (9)

Fromm discusses 3 different attempts to overcome this separateness. “One way to achieve this aim lies in all kinds of orgiastic states. These may have the form of an auto-induced trance, sometimes with the help of drugs.” (10f) “Rites of communal sexual orgies were a part of many primitive rituals. It seems that after the orgiastic experience, man can go on for a time without suffering too much from his separateness.”(11) In a “non-orgiastic culture”, alcohol and drugs can take that place. This can easily become an addiction, since people “feel all the more separate after the orgiastic experience is over, and thus are driven to take recourse to it with increasing frequency and intensity.” (11) Sex can be another addiction when “it becomes a desperate attempt to escape the anxiety engendered by separateness, and it results in an ever-increasing sense of separateness, since the sexual act without love never bridges the gap between two human beings, except momentarily. All forms of orgiastic union have three characteristics: they are intense, even violent; they occur in the total personality, mind and body; they are transitory and periodical.” (12)

An opposite, more lasting attempt to overcome separateness is conformity. “It is a union in which the individual self disappears to a large extent, and where the aim is to belong to the herd.” (12) Submitting to peer pressure is one form of that. Despite a strong focus on individuality “actually, people want to conform to a much higher degree than they are forced to conform, at least in the Western democracies.” (13) We want to belong. Conformity, driven by the need to belong, to overcome separateness, can lead to a giving up of one’s individual uniqueness.

In the relationship between the genders equality tends to become sameness. “Equality today means ‘sameness’, rather than ‘oneness’.” (14) Fromm warns: “The polarity of the sexes is disappearing, and with it erotic love, which is based on this polarity. Men and women become the same, not equals as opposite poles.” (15) Wearing the same clothes or hair styles is an outer manifestation of that. Today, after men and women have lost their traditional roles, we can see the need for redefining maleness and femaleness. What is it to be a man? What is it to be a woman? are questions of our time. There is a need to cherish the difference while striving for equality.

“A third way of attaining union lies in creative activity, be it that of the artist, or of the artisan. In any kind of creative work the creating person units himself with his material, which represents the world outside of himself .” (16)

“The unity achieved in productive work is not interpersonal; the unity achieved in orgiastic fusion is transitory; the unity achieved by conformity is only pseudo-unity. Hence, they are only partial answers to the problem of existence. The full answer lies in the achievement of interpersonal union, of fusion with another person, in love.” (16f)

Fromm distinguishes between mature and immature forms of love. An immature form of love which has been described as symbiotic union “has its biological pattern in the relationship between the pregnant mother and the foetus. They are two, and yet one. They live ‘together’ (sym-biosis), they need each other.” (17) “In the psychic symbiotic union, the two bodies are independent, but the same kind of attachment exists psychologically.” (17f)

Two complementary forms of symbiotic behaviour are described, masochism and sadism, the passive and the active part. Both need the other.

“The masochistic person escapes from the unbearable feeling of isolation and separateness by making himself part and parcel of another person who directs him, guides him, protects him; who is his life and his oxygen, as it were.” (18) “There can be masochistic submission to fate, to sickness, to rhythmic music, to the orgiastic state produced by drugs or under hypnotic trance – in all these instances the person renounces his integrity, makes himself the instrument of somebody or something outside of himself; he need not solve the problem of living by productive activity.” (18)

“The sadistic person wants to escape from his aloneness and his sense of imprisonment by making another person part and parcel of himself. He inflates and enhances himself by incorporating another person, who worships him.” (18) Both are dependent on the other, “neither can live without the other. The difference is only that the sadistic person commands, exploits, hurts, humiliates, and that the masochistic person is commanded, exploited, hurt, humiliated. This is a considerable difference in a realistic sense; in a deeper emotional sense, the difference is not so great as that which they both have in common: fusion without integrity.” (18f)

Fromm is influenced by psychoanalytic concepts. Nowadays, we can also describe the phenomenon of symbiotic connection sounding less judgmental. What leads to dependency in relationship are yet unmet childhood needs, like the need for affirmation, emotional and physical holding, reassurance and feeling loved unconditionally. The most likely place where these needs surface is in intimate partnerships. This can be a curse but also an opportunity to heal. Healing requires the awareness, acceptance and acknowledgment of these needs, and the willingness to identify corresponding patterns of both partners, so that mutuality can be maintained. This supports the process of growing up which is needed to move from immature love to mature love.

“In contrast to symbiotic union, mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.” (19)

When Fromm talks about love as “an activity”, it is not necessarily active in the sense of “directed toward an outside goal to be achieved”, he also takes into account the motivation of activity. “Take for instance a man driven to incessant work by a sense of deep insecurity or loneliness; or another one driven by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases the person is the slave of a passion, and his activity is in reality a ‘passivity’ because he is driven. He is the sufferer, not the ‘actor’. On the other hand, a man sitting quiet and contemplating, with no purpose or aim except that of experiencing himself and his oneness with the world, is considered to be ‘passive’, because he is not ‘doing’ anything. In reality, this attitude of concentrated meditation is the highest activity there is, an activity of the soul, which is possible only under the condition of inner freedom and independence.” (19f)

Fromm connects passion with being passive. He refers to Spinoza who “differentiates among the affects between active and passive affects, ‘actions’ and ‘passions’. In the exercise of an active affect, man is free, he is the master of his affect; in the exercise of a passive affect, man is driven, the object of motivations of which he himself is not aware. … Envy, jealousy, ambition, any kind of greed are passions; love is an action, the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as a result of a compulsion.” (20)


What is love?

This question has inspired many writers and singers, philosophers and psychologists. Everybody seems to want it and many admit to not really knowing it.

We can learn to love. This is the hopeful message that Erich Fromm gave in his book “The Art of Loving”.

In the following I summarize some main points using significant quotes.

“Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a ‘standing in’, not a ‘falling for’. In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving.” (20)

Giving, however, is not “giving up”. “Some make a virtue out of giving in the sense of a sacrifice.” (21) This is the position of the martyr, who actually prevents the relationship from being healthy by “balancing giving and taking”(Bert Hellinger,; Love’s hidden symmetry, p. 46ff).

Giving is also not about a trade-off, in exchange for receiving. Fromm refers to giving as “the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy.” (21)

In the sphere of sexuality, this principle applies too: “The culmination of the male sexual function lies in the act of giving; the man gives of himself, his sexual organ, to the woman. At the moment of orgasm he gives his semen to her.” (21f)

“For the woman the process is not different, although somewhat more complex. She gives herself too; she opens the gates to her feminine center; in the act of receiving, she gives.” (22)

“In the sphere of material things giving means being rich. Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much.” (22)

“He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him; in truly giving, he cannot help receiving that which is given back to him. Giving implies to make the other person a giver also and they both share in the joy of what they have brought to life.” (23)

Apart from giving, there are 4 basic elements that are common to all forms of love: “Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge” (24).

“If a woman told us that she loved flowers, and we saw that she forgot to water them, we would not believe in her ‘love’ for flowers. Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.” (24)

Responsibility is not to be confused with obligation. In its true sense, it “is an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs, expressed or unexpressed, of another human being. To be ‘responsible’ means to be able and ready to ‘respond’.” (25)

“Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for a third component of love, respect. Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere = to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me. If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use.” (26)

“To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge. Knowledge would be empty if it were not motivated by concern. There are many layers of knowledge; the knowledge which is an aspect of love is one which does not stay at the periphery, but penetrates to the core. It is possible only when I can transcend the concern for myself and see the other person in his own terms.” (26)

Apart from love as a way to overcome human separateness, and to fulfill the longing for union, there is a more specific biological need: “the desire for union between the masculine and feminine poles.” (30)

“The polarity between the male and female principles exists also within each man and each woman. Just as physiologically man and woman each have hormones of the opposite sex, they are bisexual also in the psychological sense. They carry in themselves the principle of receiving and penetrating, of matter and of spirit. Man – and woman – finds union within himself only in the union of his female and his male polarity. This polarity is the basis of all creativity.” (30)

Apart from sexual functioning, there is also masculinity and femininity in character. Fromm describes the masculine character as having the qualities of “penetration, guidance, activity, discipline and adventurous-ness”, whereas the qualities of the feminine character are “productive receptiveness, protection, realism, endurance, motherliness” (33). While both are blended in individuals regardless of their sex, the lack of their specific character trait leads to dysfunctional behaviour: ” .. if the masculine character traits of a man are weakened because emotionally he has remained a child, he will try to compensate for this lack by the exclusive emphasis on his male role in sex. The result is the Don Juan, who needs to prove his male prowess in sex because he is unsure of his masculinity in a characterological sense.” In extreme situations this can also lead to sadism.

“If the feminine sexuality is weakened or perverted, it is transformed into masochism, or possessiveness.” (34)

Apart from distinguishing mature from immature love, Fromm also describes the different qualities of Mother’s love and Father’s love.

I am loved. I am loved because I am mother’s child. I am loved because I am helpless. I am loved because I am beautiful, admirable. I am loved because mother needs me. To put it in a more general formula: I am loved for what I am, or perhaps more accurately, I am loved because I am. This experience to be loved by mother is a passive one. There is nothing I have to do in order to be loved – mother’s love is unconditional. All I have to do is to be – to be her child. Mother’s love is bliss, is peace, it need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. But there is a negative side, too, to the unconditional quality of mother’s love. Not only does it not need to be deserved – it also cannot be acquired, produced, controlled. If it is there, it is like a blessing; if it is not there, it is as if all beauty had gone out of life – and there is nothing I can do to create it.” (36)

“For most children before the age from eight and a half to ten, the problem is almost exclusively that of being loved – of being loved for what one is. The child up to this age does not yet love; he responds gratefully, joyfully to being loved.” (36)

Later the child thinks of giving something to the parents, a drawing for example. While mother represents nature, home, father represents the other pole of human existence, the man-made things, discipline, adventure. “Father is the one who teaches the child, who shows him the road into the world.” (39)

“Fatherly love is conditional love. Its principle is ‘I love you because you fulfill my expectations, because you do your duty, because you are like me.’ In conditional fatherly love we find, as with unconditional motherly love, a negative and a positive aspect. The negative aspect is the very fact that fatherly love has to be deserved, that it can be lost if one does not do what is expected. … The positive side is equally important. Since his love is conditioned, I can do something to acquire it, I can work for it; his love is not outside of my control as motherly love is.” (39)

“The child, after six, begins to need father’s love, his authority and guidance. Mother has the function of making him secure in life, father has the function of teaching him, guiding him to cope with those problems with which the particular society the child has been born into confronts him.” (39)

“Infantile love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’ ” (37)

“Eventually, the mature person has come to the point where he is his own mother and his own father. He has, as it were, a motherly and a fatherly conscience. … If he would only retain his fatherly conscience, he would become harsh and inhuman. If he would only retain his motherly conscience, he would be apt to lose judgment and to hinder himself and others in their development.” (40)

Fromm distinguishes between 3 different objects of love. Brotherly Love (sisterly love) is between equals. It is “the most fundamental kind of love, which underlies all types of love” and consists of a “sense of responsibility, care, respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life.” (42f)

Motherly Love “makes the child feel: it is good to have been born; it instills in the child the love for life, and not only the wish to remain alive.” (45)

The third type is erotic love. “In erotic love, two people who were separate become one. In motherly love, two people who were one become separate. The mother must not only tolerate, she must wish and support the child’s separation.” (47)

Whereas “brotherly love is amongst equals; motherly love is love for the helpless. Different as they are from each other, they have in common that they are by their very nature not restricted to one person. … In contrast to both types of love is erotic love; it is the craving for complete fusion with one other person. It is by its very nature exclusive and not universal; it is also perhaps the most deceptive form of love there is.” (48)

Often it is confused with “the explosive experience of ‘falling’ in love, the sudden collapse of the barriers which existed until that moment between two strangers. But … this experience of sudden intimacy is by its very nature short-lived.” (48)

Both gain the impression that they know each other, since they moved so fast to overcome barriers. But depth in a relationship only develops over time, as partners stay open to get to know each other more fully. Many people experience intimacy primarily through sexual contact, where “physical union means overcoming separateness.” (48)

“Sexual desire aims at fusion – and is by no means only a physical appetite, the relief of a painful tension. But sexual desire can be stimulated by the anxiety of aloneness, by the wish to conquer or be conquered, by vanity, by the wish to hurt and even to destroy, as much as it can be stimulated by love. It seems that sexual desire can easily blend with and be stimulated by any strong emotion, of which love is only one. Because sexual desire is in the minds of most people coupled with the idea of love, they are easily misled to conclude that they love each other when they want each other physically. Love can inspire the wish for sexual union; in this case the physical relationship is lacking in greediness, in a wish to conquer or to be conquered, but is blended with tenderness. If the desire for physical union is not stimulated by love, if erotic love is not also brotherly love, it never leads to union in more than an orgiastic, transitory sense.” (49)

“Sexual attraction creates, for the moment, the illusion of union, yet without love this ‘union’ leaves strangers as far apart as they were before – sometimes it makes them ashamed of each other, or even makes them hate each other, because when the illusion has gone they feel their estrangement even more markedly than before.” (49f)


This is the third and final summary of Erich Fromm’s book “The Art of Loving”. It deals with self-love, love of God, love in the Western society, and the practice of love.

Is self-love the same as selfishness? Erich Fromm refers to the “widespread belief that, while it is virtuous to love others, it is sinful to love oneself” (52). The belief that self-love was selfish “goes far back in Western thought” and was supported by Calvin and also Freud, who identified self-love as narcissism.

Fromm opposes this view by stressing that “the love for my own self is inseparably connected with the love for any other being” (53). Rather than an affect, love is an attitude and an action. “Love of one person implies love of man(kind) as such” (54). When looking at love as the ability to love, the ability to give, it becomes obvious that this is severely lacking in selfishness. “The selfish person is interested only in himself, wants everything for himself, feels no pleasure in giving but only in taking. The world outside is looked at only from the standpoint of what he can get out of it” (54f). Fromm then concludes: “Selfishness and self-love, far from being identical, are actually opposites.”

“It is true that selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either.” (55) The circle is closed when you consider similarities between a selfish and a neurotic unselfish person. Both share a “greedy concern for others”. Fromm uses the example of “an oversolicitous mother: While she consciously believes that she is particularly fond of her child, she has actually a deeply repressed hostility toward the object of her concern. She is overconcerned not because she loves the child too much, but because she has to compensate for her lack of capacity to love him at all.”

Unselfish people have a less obvious and more hidden self-centredness. They leave the other under obligation to them.

Erich Fromm concludes that “there is nothing more conducive to giving a child the experience of what love, joy and happiness are than being loved by a mother who loves herself” (57). She becomes a good role model of self-love and teaches the child through her example.

To summarise these ideas on self-love, Erich Fromm quotes Meister Eckhart: “If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself. As long as you love another person less than you love yourself, you will not really succeed in loving yourself, but if you love all alike, including yourself, you will love them as one person and that person is both God and man. Thus he is a great and righteous person who, loving himself, loves all others equally.” (57)

For Erich Fromm, the religious love, the love of God, “springs from the need to overcome separateness and to achieve union” (57). This is achieved in similar ways to the love of humans. “In all theistic religions, whether they are polytheistic or monotheistic, God stands for the highest value, the most desirable good. Hence, the specific meaning of God depends on what is the most desirable good for a person.”(57f)

Looking at the development of the human race, at the beginning, man found unity “by remaining one with the natural world” (58). At that stage, they identified with animals and trees, transformed them into a totem, and worshiped animals as God. Then they worshiped man made idols made of clay, silver or gold.

As man became more aware of himself, gods were given the form of human beings. Fromm refers to them as “the female and male nature of the gods”, and talks about the “mother-centered and father-centered religions” (59).

“In the matriarchal phase, the highest being is the mother. She is the goddess, she is also the authority in family and society.” The essence of matriarchal religion is similar to the essence of motherly love: unconditional, all-protective, all-enveloping, it can not be controlled or acquired.

At the next stage of human evolution, the patriarchal phase, “the father becomes the Supreme Being, in religion as well as in society”. Here demands are made, principles and laws established, and the society organized in a hierarchical way. What is asked for is obedience and faith.

Then God is being transformed “from the figure of a father into a symbol of his principles .. of justice, truth and love” (62) We can observe this in the way God is being depicted and described, from a benevolent father figure to more abstract concepts and principles.

Fromm connects the process of reaching different stages with regard to the love of God with the development of mature love. “Inasmuch as God is the father, I am the child. I have not emerged fully from the autistic wish for omniscience and omnipotence. I have not yet acquired the objectivity to realize my limitations as a human being, my ignorance, my helplessness. I still claim, like a child, that there must be a father who likes me when I am obedient, who is flattered by my praise and angry because of my disobedience. Quite obviously, the majority of people have, in their personal development, not overcome this infantile stage, and hence the belief in God to most people is the belief in a helping father – a childish illusion.”(64)

A mature love of God, in Fromm’s view, would mean “to long for attainment of the full capacity to love, for the realization of that which “God” stands for in oneself” (65).

Fromm then compares theistic and non-theistic positions: “In all theistic systems … there is the assumption of the reality of the spiritual realm, as one transcending man, giving meaning and validity to man’s spiritual powers and his striving for salvation and inner birth. In a non-theisic system, there exists no spiritual realm outside of man or transcending him. The realm of love, reason and justice exists as a reality only because, and inasmuch as, man has been able to develop these powers in himself throughout the process of evolution.” (65)

Despite their difference both need not to fight each other. Fromm then explores the difference between Eastern and Western religious thinking. While Western thinking is based on Aristotle’s logic, where A cannot be non-A, Eastern thinking embraces paradoxical logic, where “it is and it is not”. Chuang-tzu: “That which is one is one. That which is not-one, is also one.” Loa-tse: “Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical” (66f).

“In Taoist thinking, just as in Indian and Socratic thinking, the highest step to which thought can lead is to know that we do not know.” (68)

“The teachers of paradoxical logic say that man can perceive reality only in contradictions, and can never perceive in thought the ultimate reality-unity, the One itself. … Thought can only lead us to the knowledge that it cannot give us the ultimate answer.” (70)

“The only way in which the world can be grasped ultimately lies, not in thought, but in the act, in the experience of oneness. Thus paradoxical logic leads us to the conclusion that the love of God is neither the knowledge of God in thought, nor the thought of one’s love of God, but the act of experiencing the oneness with God.” (70) Therefore, “the ultimate aim of religion is not the right belief, but the right action” (71).

The main stream of the Western approach focuses on finding “the ultimate truth in the right thought” (72). This leads to the formulation of dogmas … and intolerance of the “non-believer” or heretic. It furthermore led to the emphasis on “believing in God as the main aim of a religious attitude”.

“In the dominant Western religious system, the love of God is essentially the same as the belief in God, in God’s existence, God’s justice, God’s love. The love of God is essentially a thought experience. In the Eastern religions and in mysticism, the love of God is an intense feeling experience of oneness, inseparably linked with the expression of this love in every act of living.” (72f)

Fromm summarises: “In short, paradoxical thought led to tolerance and an effort toward self-transformation. The Aristotelian standpoint led to dogma and science, to the Catholic Church, and to the discovery of atomic energy.” (72)

There is a parallel between the love for one’s parents and the love for God, between the growing up of an individual and mankind as a whole. “In the history of the human race we see .. the same development: from the beginning of the love for God as the helpless attachment to a mother Goddess, through the obedient attachment to a fatherly God, to a mature stage where God ceases to be an outside power, where man has incorporated the principles of love and justice into himself, where he has become one with God” (73).

Fromm then questions whether love and the spirit of Western culture are conducive. In our capitalistic society “modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions” (77f). Relationships are consumed like goods, and the experience of happiness is in “having fun”. “In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal describes is that of the smoothly functioning team” (79). “All this kind of relationship amounts to is the well-oiled relationship between two persons who remain strangers all their lives, who never arrive at a “central relationship”, but who treat each other with courtesy and who attempt to make each other feel better”.

“Love as mutual sexual satisfaction, and love as ‘teamwork’ and as haven from aloneness, are the two ‘normal’ forms of the disintegration of love in modern Western society, the socially patterned pathology of love.” (85)

One of the misconceptions of love is that there would be no conflict when there is love, “that pain and sadness should be avoided under all circumstances” (92).

“Love is only possible if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence … Love .. is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves” (93). Then Fromm gives an indication of what could be the proof for the presence of love: “the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned”.

The last chapter focuses on the practice of love. Fromm describes five points: “First of all, the practice of an art requires discipline” (98) It’s not an enforced discipline but “self-discipline”. Part of this is the development of a certain rhythm in one’s life, and a reduction of “escapist activities”. “It is essential, however, that discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it becomes an expression of one’s own will; that it is felt as pleasant, and that one slowly accustoms oneself to a kind of behaviour which one would eventually miss, if one stopped practicing it.” (101)

Concentration, the second factor “is rare in our culture”. We live in a culture of over-stimulation. “This lack of concentration is clearly shown in our difficulty in being alone with ourselves.” (99) The common habit of having TV or radio running in the background is an indication of that. “The most important step in learning concentration is to learn to be alone with oneself without reading, listening to the radio, smoking or drinking.” (101) It seems paradox, that being able to be alone is a prerequisite to being able to be in a loving relationship with another. “To be concentrated means to live fully in the present” (103), and to become “sensitive to oneself” (104).

Then there is patience: “If one is after quick results, one never learns an art. Yet, for modern man, patience is as difficult to practice as discipline and concentration.” (99) Quickness is a desirable goal of our times. “Modern man thinks he loses something – time – when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains – except kill it.” (99) We can experience patience when we “watch a child learning to walk. It falls, falls again, and yet it goes on trying, improving, until one day it walks without falling” (104)

The forth requirement is “a supreme concern with the mastery of the art” (99). This describes activity, which is not necessarily “doing something”, “but an inner activity, the productive use of one’s powers” (115). If I love, “I am in a constant state of active concern with the loved person … in a state of awareness, alertness, activity” (115f)

The ability to love depends “on the relative absence of narcissism” and the “development of humility, objectivity and reason”, it depends on our capacity to grow up “from the incestuous fixation to mother and clan”, and it leads to the “practice of faith” (109). “To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment.” (114) Faith can be practiced in daily life. “It takes faith to bring up a child, … to fall asleep, … to begin any work”.

At the end, Fromm critisizes: “Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves. All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends; man is an automaton – well fed, well clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function. If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place. The economic machine must serve him, rather than he serve it.

He must be enabled to share experience, to share work, rather than, at best, share in profits. Society must be organized in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it.” (119f)

It is remarkable that this was written 44 years ago. Still relevant today, if not a more pressing necessity, when faced with the imminent problems of self destruction and destruction of our planet through continuous exploitation of non-renewable resources and waste explosion. Maybe it’s a timely reminder to speak of love, “the ultimate and real need in every human being” (120).

Quotes are from Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, New York: HarperCollins, 1956

Rudolf Jarosewitsch


Copyright © 12/1999, 7/2000, 12/2000 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Integrative Dialogue #11, 12, 13, Dec1999, Jul2000, Dec2000

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