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What is love? Do we truly know how to love? The mystery that is love has perhaps been one of the foremost concerns of all humankind. Why is it that we ‘fall in love’ time and again and ‘fall out of it’ as well? What exactly is self-love? Is it a new idea exaggerated way beyond or are we missing something here?
Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst and social philosopher, dared to answer some of these questions in his 1956 book ‘The Art of Loving’. He discusses various aspects of love in a practical yet classy way and presents love as a skill that can be taught and developed. The notion that love is an enigmatic concept, that is beyond anyone’s comprehension, is rejected.
Learnings from the Art of Loving
Fromm’s perspective on love as a key human nature is nothing short of an eye-opener, a perfectly written work of art that highlights all different aspects of love namely romantic love, the love of parents for children, brotherly love, erotic love, self-love and love of God in 4 rather insightful sections:
1. Love as a form of art
Fromm shares that Love deserves to be treated as a main concern. Just like any other art form, we must hone, develop and nourish our abilities to love better.
2. Modern love
Fromm observes that in order to get over their own loneliness, most individuals turn to drugs or sexual exploits. While this may bridge the gap and bring us closer for a while, it is still a temporary solution and far from true love.
3. Capitalism and human relationships
Fromm observes that the uniqueness of every individual’s love is lost as everyone aspires to conform to the same quality of love that is considered to be ideal in society.
4. Practicing love
Real love demands 4 essential elements: care, respect, responsibility and knowledge. It is an activity that is given, freely and openly, without the expectation to receive. To love is to give, he says, to give from one’s soul, one’s feelings, one’s existence. Love is one’s best expression of power, happiness, aliveness and uniqueness.
Fromm says that as humans we are all want to be loved desperately. We seek for it everywhere, even though we aren’t sure what true love really is. Instead of loving or learning to love, our focus remains on “being loved”.
Love, much like most art forms, requires mastery of knowledge and practice. Both, according to the author, are overlooked or missing in our world today. Putting in one’s energy in understanding and developing the “art of loving” is a must, should one wish to experience true love. Of course, this love is applicable to all kinds of human relationships – mother and child, man and woman, man and God, etc.
Self-Love: A key concept
The book stresses great importance to knowing oneself in order to create a love partnership that lasts. Fromm writes, “If a person has not reached the level where he has a sense of identity … he tends to idolize the loved person. In this process he loses himself in the loved one instead of finding himself.”
For Fromm, loving oneself does not equal arrogance, conceit or egocentrism. Self-love is all about caring for yourself, taking responsibility for your life, respecting and knowing yourself (e.g. being fully aware of your own strengths and weaknesses). In order to truly love another, one must love oneself first in this way.
5 Iconic quotes from The Art of Loving
1. “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.”
2. “Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.”
3. “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.”
4. “We may know ourselves, and yet even with all the efforts we make, we do not know ourselves. We know our fellow man, and yet we do not know him, because we are not a thing, and our fellow man is not a thing. The further we reach into the depths of our being, on someone else’s being, the more the goal of knowledge eludes us.”
5. “The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”
Book review: Final verdict
For me, the Art of Loving was an enduringly excellent read. While the notion of self-love is not something that we aren’t familiar with, the insight and profound wisdom that Fromm puts into his work does touch and leave you longing for more.
Highly recommended to individuals and couples desiring new perspectives to nurture their love lives and enrich their marriages.
Takeaway: Loving yourself, truly and completely, is the first step in mastering the art of loving.
Well done, Fromm!