By Christine Hill
The Art of Loving was published in 1956 by psychoanalyst, humanist, and social philosopher Erich Fromm. Despite the fact that this classic book has been around for decades, our society has still not internalized its powerful message of true love and caring for others.
The Art of Loving provides a guide to understanding the primary struggle of humanity: as a self-aware part of nature, our first awareness is that we are separate from the world and from others around us. The answer to this dilemma is love, a power and ability that we foster within ourselves in order to find connection despite our separateness. We all need love in our everyday lives and if we can bring that love into work I believe our productivity and enjoyment will expand exponentially.
The most powerful part of this book is that it describes love as an art, rather than a mysterious force that we fall into or out of. Since it is an art, it can be developed, nurtured, and learned. This message can have a powerful effect on our society, from the way that marriage and family relationships are treated, to our interactions with our fellow man on the streets, at work, and as we conduct the daily business of our lives. Modern society is obsessively concerned with how much attention and approval we get from others, whereas Erich Fromm’s philosophy states that loving is far more important than being loved. “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.”
He offers a more effective formula and mindset: “Infantile love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’”
Here are four more powerful lessons that we can learn from Fromm’s book:
- Love must be our primary ambition. “Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.” Fromm points out that while we work hard in our lives to cultivate power, ambition, wealth, and talent, we neglect love, mistakenly thinking that it’s something just does or does not happen. However, if love is an art, it requires focus and determination in order to cultivate. Every artist knows the demands that his art will have on him, and dedicates himself to developing it. Since love is the most important ability to acquire in order to have a happy, harmonious life, why do we neglect it?
- Love can’t be isolated. Fromm explains several different kinds of love, from erotic (romantic) love to brotherly love, self-love to parental love and love of God. However, he makes the point that while each aspect of love is different, you can’t have an abundance of one kind of love without also cultivating all other kinds of love. We often believe that we can find redemption and joy in just one kind of love (motherly love, or romantic love) but the truth is that without the true ability to love fostered inside of us, love that radiates to every facet of our lives, those isolated “loves” are actually counterfeits. We also often confuse self-love with narcissism. However, it’s far from. Rather, self-love empowers us to truly love others. When we recognize our own value, we recognize our ability to give and serve and it creates a positive cycle of connection.
- Giving is power and joy, not deprivation. “Giving is 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. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.” Fromm explains the adage “‘Tis better to give than receive” in a more powerful way than you’ve ever heard it. In order to become a master of loving, we find joy in giving, not because we expect reciprocity, not because we find a self-righteous boost from feeling like we’re better than other people because of our sacrifices. Rather, it is the truest joy and expression of power and vitality.
True love endures. Not because it’s so supreme that it conquers all without us needing to do a thing. Love as an active decision and capability, rather than something that you fall into. It’s not something mystical magical, unexplainable, that comes and goes without our say. Therefore, promising to love someone forever is an action and vow. Love is not a passing feeling, an isolated miracle, or unmerited grace. It is our greatest power, talent, and art.