“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence” – Erich Fromm
What if everything you thought you knew about love was wrong?
What if it wasn’t some arbitrary, magical sensation that you might someday “fall into” (or subsequently “out of ”), but was instead a specific, quantifiable skill that could be learned and practiced by all? What if love was actually an art?
In 1956, social philosopher Erich Fromm published a slim but striking book called “The Art of Loving.” In it, Fromm explained his understanding that love was not merely some random explosion of good luck enjoyed by the fortunate, but instead a very specific skill to be studied, appreciated, and hopefully learned. Fromm contended that any individual wanting to live a life of love was obligated to “develop his total personality” and learn to love mankind as a whole. He contended that love is not merely two individuals choosing to focus entirely on each other (and to the detriment of the larger society around them), it is something far more deep, significant, and consequential.
To say that Fromm’s insights were unfamiliar would be an understatement. And while I would recommend reading Fromm’s work in its entirety (really, it’s only 130 pages or so), there are a few tidbits so fascinating and thoughtful that they might just pique your interest enough to consider love for the beautiful and transcendent art it very truly is.
We spend so much energy trying to achieve success, money, power, fame, and more, but so little toward something as significant as love. Fromm makes it clear: Real, true love is available to all but will only ever be enjoyed by a precious few. Here’s hoping the few includes you.
Erich Fromm On…
- Patience: “Patience is necessary if you want to achieve anything.” Anyone who has ever tried to master an art understands that patience is integral. The world around us pushes us so hard in the opposite direction: more gratification with less waiting, faster, faster. It’s so hard to breath in a world where even the movies don’t waste your time with credits (thanks, Netflix), and yet you’re supposed to be patient in learning love? Well, yes. Patience is a crucial component in the study of anything worthwhile, and what could be more worthwhile than love?
- Objectivity: “…objectivity is the faculty to see people and things as they are [instead of one] formed by one’s desires and fears.” To develop real, true love requires the absence of narcissism and the development of true humility. Humility and objectivity are as indivisible as love is. If you cannot see the difference between your picture of a person and their actual behavior, or the other person’s reality as it exists for them, you are not objective or even truly reasonable. To have acquired the capacity for objectivity and reason is half the road to achieving the art of loving, but it must be practiced in regard to everyone you meet—not just the person you believe to be “that special someone.”
- Discipline: “The practice of art requires discipline.” Not the word you were expecting when it comes to a discussion of love, but necessary all the same. The practice of any art requires discipline. Whether it’s the piano, painting, or even small appliance repair, you can’t get good at something if you only do it when you are “in the mood.” Hobbies might work that way, but real, sincere love cannot. Most of us apply discipline to our work and maybe to our sports, but rarely to the very thing that actually makes the world go round. So make the change and discipline your efforts. Love is not for the lazy.
- Courage: “To be loved, and to love, need courage.” The ability to take a risk, and the readiness to accept pain or disappointment in pursuit of that which our heart desires most requires courage. Consider the pains of your life and which wounds cut the deepest or left the most lasting scars. Rarely are they physical. The opening of one’s heart to love invites the most profound of pains, which is why personal courage is so important and necessary. No one said real love was easy.
- Faith: “The practice of the art of loving requires the practice of faith.” Rather than being a specific religious description, faith is instead a character trait pervading the whole personality rather than a particular belief. For example, we require faith in our self—the trust that our identity is strong enough to contain our fears and imperfections so that we don’t become dependent on other people for their approval or disapproval. And only when you have faith in your self can you fully place your faith in another. Faith is a huge part of our ability to make a promise to someone. If you can make a promise and know you can keep it, you have learned faith in the love that you produce. Then, you can take that love and have faith in its ability to produce love in others, which is the essence of being able to have faith in all of humanity.
- Self-Love: “Selfishness and self-love, far from being identical, are actually opposites.” According to Fromm, loving oneself is quite different from arrogance or conceit. To love oneself means to care about oneself; to take responsibility for getting to know who you are; to care what happens to you. It matters that you spend time appreciating and respecting who you are and who you hope to someday become. Take stock of your personal strengths and weaknesses and acknowledge them truthfully. Remember, it’s impossible to fully love another if you cannot truly love yourself, warts and all.
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