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The Art of Loving

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The Art of Loving (by Erich Fromm, 1956) is rare in its ability to treat love as an active art, rather than a passive "falling into," In the book Fromm writes,

"Love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine and engineering."

How can you treat love as an art?

First you must master the theory, and then the you must master the practice. Fromm writes,

"If I want to learn the art of medicine I must first know the facts about the human body, and various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine.

I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one - my intuition - the essence of the mastery of any art."

But that's not all,

"There is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art - the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art."

This holds true for anyone learning to become a doctor, a painter, a web developer. To master an art takes time and dedication.

Why then, if love is so important to us, don't we give it the same attention as checking our email, watching sitcoms, and showing up at work every day?

If "All We Need is Love," then why don't we devote more time to the practice of loving?

The Theory of Love

The problem of human existence is one of separateness. Let's start there. "Man is gifted with reason, he is life being aware of itself," writes Fromm. With this gift of life comes the awareness of our separateness, we are born, and will die alone. Being separate means being cut off, helpless, with shame, fear and guilt. According to Fromm, Love is the only true cure for our separateness.

There are 4 activities that are necessary for loving. They are the following:

  1. Care - One loves that for which one labors, and one labors for that which one loves. Fromm explains, "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."
  2. Responsibility - To be responsible means to be able and ready to respond. It is a voluntary act, and an element of love.
  3. Respect - Respect can be roughly defined as the desire for others to grow and unfold as they are. Respect is not fear or awe but the absence of exploitation. Fromm adds, "Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for respect."
  4. Knowledge - Fromm writes, "To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not motivated by concern."

The Practice of Love

Just as there isn't one manual for how to become a painter, there isn't one manual on how to love. Fromm makes his intentions in this chapter clear, stating that it isn't a "do it yourself" guide, but a jumping off point from which readers can pursue their desire to become artists of love.

With that said, he does give some general requirements for mastering any art. They are:

  1. Discipline: You'll never master something if you only do it when you are in the right mood. You need to clock some time. You can't be lazy with love.
  2. Concentration: You need to focus, be comfortable with your aloneness, avoid trivial conversations, and be OK with feeling uncomfortable as you practice the art of love.
  3. Patience: Good art takes time and dedication.

"There are many people, for instance, who have never seen a loving person, or a person with integrity, or courage or concentration. It is quite obvious that in order to be sensitive to oneself, one has to have an image of complete, healthy human functioning." [108]

For a more in depth summary, listen to Episode #23 of the On Books Podcast, and buy the book The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.

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