The Tree of Knowledge
Art of Loving
If two people who have been strangers, as all of us are, suddenly let the wall between them break down, and feel close, feel one, this moment of oneness is one of the most exhilarating, most exciting experiences in life. It is all the more wonderful and miraculous for persons who have been shut off, isolated, without love. This miracle of sudden intimacy is often facilitated if it is combined with, or initiated by, sexual attraction and consummation.
However, this type of love is by its very nature not lasting. The two persons become well acquainted; their intimacy loses more and more of its miraculous character, until their antagonism, their disappointments, and 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.
There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love. If this were the case with any other activity, people would be eager to know the reasons for the failure and to learn how one could do better – or they would give up the activity.
The first thing we have to learn is that 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. Maybe here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures.
In spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving. Could it be that only these things are considered worthy of being learned with which one can earn money or prestige, and that love, which ONLY profits the soul, but is profitless in the modern sense, is a luxury we have no right to spend much energy on?
If you wish to enjoy an art, you must be an artistically trained person; if you wish to have an influence on other people you must be a person who has a really stimulating and furthering influence on other people. In the Book of Jonah, God explains to Jonah that the essence of love is to labour for something and to make something grow, that love and labour are inseparable. One loves that for which one labours, and one labours for that which one loves.
Care and concern imply another aspect of love. Today responsibility is often meant to denote duty, something imposed on one from the outside. But responsibility, in its TRUE sense, is an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs of others. The loving person responds.
Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for a third component of love, respect. Respect is not fear or awe; it denotes the ability to see a person as he/she is, to be aware of the unique individuality. Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as they are. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for their own sake, and not for the purpose of serving me. If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with them as they are, not as I need them to be as an object for my use. It is clear that respect is only possible if I have achieved independence, without having to exploit anyone else. Respect exists only on the basis of freedom, for love is the child of freedom, never that of domination.
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. Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are mutually interdependent. They are a syndrome of attitudes which are to be found in the mature person; that is the person who develops his own powers productively, who wants only to have that which he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on inner strength which only genuine productive activity can give.
If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellowmen, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism. Yet most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty. In fact, they even believe that it is proof of the intensity of their love when they do not love anybody except the “loved” person. This is the same fallacy which I have already mentioned above. Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object – and that everything goes by itself afterward.
This attitude can be compared to that of the man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he just has to wait for the right object – and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it. If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say, “I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself.”
Extracts from – ‘The Art of Loving’, by Erich Fromm
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