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Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving": An Exploration

During the 19th century, Victor Hugo proclaimed, "Life is the flower for which love is the honey." This timeless sentiment sets the stage for exploring love, which has perpetually fascinated humanity. It is a concept that has inspired epics, poems, and movies and has even led people to sacrifice their lives in its pursuit. For some, love represents a goal that promises happiness when attained, while for others, it embodies the pain endured in its absence. However, for some, love remains a hopeful aspiration. But what if love is not merely the immediate feeling of encountering someone who captivates us, as it is often depicted in languages and cultures? What if the fairy tale of finding the perfect Prince Charming is a romantic myth? What if much of what we have come to understand about love is fundamentally flawed, and love is not just a fleeting emotion reserved for the fortunate few? What if love is, in fact, a phenomenon that we can only truly grasp after we undergo personal growth and attain a level of maturity? Could it be a talent or skill that some possess innately while others must learn it? In his book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm delves into the complexity of love, dissecting its various layers and examining the components that influence it. Fromm provides detailed explanations that encourage us to contemplate these profound questions.


Figure 1: Erich Fromm (Espinoza, 2013).

Before we proceed with the book review, we must familiarize ourselves with the author, Erich Fromm. According to Burston (1991), Erich Fromm is an American psychoanalyst, philosopher, and sociologist born in Germany in the 1900s. Fromm is one of the world's most remarkable representatives of the Marxist-socialist and humanistic approaches to psychology (Burston, 1991). Although Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud are two people he was greatly influenced by, the book is not pessimistic to the reader; on the contrary, it speaks from a humanist point of view (Burston, 1991). Fromm, who occasionally sent criticism to Freud, saw humans as beings with the potential for self-development (Burston, 1991). Funk (2000) reveals that in his book Erich Fromm: His Life and Ideas, An Illustrated Biography Fromm said that the First World War, which coincided with his youth, was the most important event that affected his life (Funk, 2000). During this period, he became acquainted with nationalism, hatred, and separation; Fromm observed how values and principles were trampled underfoot (Funk, 2000). Despite this, it is still thought-provoking for readers to discuss hope and love.

Erich Fromm emphasizes that with the change of social life order in contemporary Western societies, the meaning and value given to love becomes superficial. However, this feeling must be considered, which is very important and indispensable for human essence and existence. Fromm touches upon the values people have lost in the order of life in capitalist societies and explains the importance and structure of love. According to Fromm (1956):


Love can arise when the essence of their being connects two people; therefore, each recognizes themselves from the essence of their being. Human reality, vitality, and the foundation of love lie in this life of "self-knowledge." Love experienced this way is a constant challenge, not a resting place, but forming, growing, and working together. (p. 98)



Figure 2: Me We Unity (Griggs, n.d.).


Based on the definition of love here, we can see how much effort it takes to put this action into practice in our society and the age of consumption. In contemporary society, the way individuals perceive, interpret, and include love in their lives is often in a position open and sensitive to external manipulations.


People think it is easy to love; the real challenge is to find something to love or be loved. Many reasons for this attitude lie in the development history of contemporary society. Our culture is entirely built on the hunger to buy, on a shopping understanding in which both the buyer and the giver enter willingly. People of our age can be happy by looking at shop windows and buying everything they can afford, whether in cash or installments. People in our age look at other people in the same way. In a culture that revolves around shopping and where material values are the supreme values, it is not surprising that human relations are also managed according to the methods prevailing in the property and labor market. One is a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. worker, part of the workforce, or part of the governing army of clerks and directors. They can choose very few things according to their own will. The regulations of the job determine their duties, and there is not much difference between those who work at the top level and those who do small jobs. They all carry out the tasks determined by the regulation at an agreed speed, on the agreed path. Even the emotions are bespoke: joy, understanding, trust, and getting along without conflict with anyone. Even the entertainment order is predetermined, if not in such compelling ways. Everything is lined up and predetermined from birth to death, from Monday to Monday, from morning to evening. (Fromm, 1956, p. 12,24)


The concept of "automaton" is frequently used during explanations. As can be understood from the root of the word, here, a reference is made to the automatic behavior patterns of the human being, away from consciousness and will, without questioning and dictated by the order.


Contemporary human is alienated from other people and nature. Human relations are those of disconnected automatons; Each of these automatons finds its security by staying connected to the herd and not being separated from the others in thought, emotion, and action. While everyone tries to be as close as possible to others, everyone is in hopeless solitude. They sink into intense insecurity, restlessness, and guilt that they cannot escape unless their loneliness is eliminated. There are innumerable distracting things in our civilization that can distract people from this consciousness: First of all, the tightly managed mechanical order of work prevents these people from becoming conscious of their most basic human aspirations, their desire for self-transcendence, for unity. Automata cannot love. (Fromm, 1956, p. 83)



Figure 3: City of the future (Zerkos, 2013).

Aldous Huxley (1932) addresses this issue in his dystopian novel Brave New World:


People's happiness today is having fun. Having fun brings the satisfaction of swallowing and taking. Beautiful things, places, food, drink, people, conferences, books, and movies are all swallowed. The world is a big apple and bottle to feed our hunger. We constantly expect something, hope for something, and are constantly disappointed. Our personality is built on receiving, exchanging, and consuming; everything, spiritual or objective, is an object to be exchanged and used. (Huxley, 1932, p. 84)


Fromm (1956) also expresses the change in the principles of today's people as follows:


The day is spent working towards financial comfort and success in the personality market. The principles on which our efforts with the world are based are indifference and unconsciousness. The latter is often called individualism or personal entrepreneurial power. (Fromm, 1956, p. 99)


On the other hand, even though it is subject to criticism, this order and the position of people in the order, the power to change it and take action is still within the individual. Human is above everything with their essence of creation and their mind. They know their own life, other people, past, future, death, and time are limited. It is unacceptable to be created with this level of awareness, to not use the skills of questioning in an orderly manner, and not be aware of it in a way that would make the essence of its existence sterile. This is where Fromm also criticizes and tries to create awareness in the individual. For this reason, he says that for this action to be put into practice, it is necessary to accept that loving is an art. Just as some conditions are required to succeed in an art branch, we also need to have a point of view to learn to love. The two basic ways to be successful in any branch of art are given as follows:

1. Grasping the theory

2. Get into practice

The book mentions how the various forms of love, such as maternal love, brotherly love, romantic love, self-love, and love for a higher power like God, shape the concept of love we experience from our parents since birth and how these different types of love evolve. It focuses on the formal and emotional differences of types of love. Fromm (1956) did not evaluate the concept of love only based on inter-couple relations. As mentioned a sentence ago, according to Fromm, there are five types of love: Mother and Father Love, Brotherly Love, Self-Love, Sexual Love, and God's Love. Fromm talked about how the unconditional love of parents is vital in the quality of the relationships that the individual will establish in the future and the neuroses seen in the individual without such love. On the other hand, based on the idea that everyone is equal, Fromm said that sibling love is to love someone not of their own blood, such as a poor person, like a brother. Loving those close to us comes naturally, but loving someone who does not reciprocate can be incredibly challenging. It is difficult to "give" in the first place; only then can one truly love if one puts effort into something. When talking about love, the concept of "mature love" is defined as follows:


Mature love is the union of a person without losing their integrity and individuality. Love is an active force in people that separates a person from other people, breaks down walls, and unites them with others. Love helps people overcome feelings of separation and loneliness, yet it ensures that it remains itself and that it does not lose its integrity. In love, the dilemma of two beings being one and still remaining two beings occurs. Love is an action that can only take place in freedom, not under necessity, the manifestation of human powers. Love is an activity; It is not a passive event. To be in something is not to be caught in something. The active feature of love can be defined in its most general form as follows: love is giving, not receiving. Immature love: "I love you because I need you." says. Mature love "I need you because I love you." says. (Fromm, 1956, p. 27)


Figure 4: Finding Equilibrium (Duy, n.d.).

In human relations, as in every other subject, the importance of balance is mentioned (Fromm, 1956). The balance of giving and receiving is expected to be equal or close to equilibrium. Fromm (1956) draws attention to the uncertainties of giving in relationships. Fromm says that the concept of "giving" mentioned here is interpreted differently by people with different understandings of love. Anyone whose personality is immature, receptive, exploitative, or hoarding understands the act of giving as giving up something, losing it for someone else's sake; Fromm adds:


Those who are not creative by nature regard giving as impoverishment. That is why most people like this do not want to give. Others consider it a virtue to give in the sense of giving up something. For the productive personality, giving has a diametrically opposite meaning. Giving is the best expression of being full of power. During the act of giving, I feel my power, my wealth, my superiority. This experience of exalted vitality and fullness fills me with enthusiasm. Giving is more exhilarating than receiving, not because it is a deprivation but because giving reveals my vitality. In the material universe, giving means being rich. It is not the rich who take much, but the rich who give much. However, the most important acts of giving do not occur in the material realm, but in the human universe. (Fromm, 1956, p. 24)


What does one give to another?


They give from themselves; they give something of their life, their time, their interests, their understanding, their knowledge, their compassion, their joys, their sorrows, all kinds of manifestations of the things that live in them. Thus, by giving something from their life, they enrich them and increase the vitality of the other person by accelerating the feeling of vitality within themselves. (Fromm, 1956, p. 30)


Fromm says that the ability to love depends on the development of the person, as well as the theoretical explanations Fromm offers to experience love and that it is possible for a person to reach this awareness with themselves:


Love is not a feeling anyone can taste at random without reaching maturity. Efforts to love will only succeed if one develops the whole personality creatively. The ability to love depends on the development of the personality. It predicts the predominance of creativity. In this case, the person has overcome their addiction, the powerlessness of being kept to themselves, the desire to use others, to be constantly receptive, and they have gained the courage to believe in their human powers and rely on their strength to reach their goals. The more these qualities are lacking, the more afraid they are to give of themselves and, therefore, love. (Fromm, 1956, p. 32.98)


Figure 5: Is Love an Art? (Seelig, 2016).

Emphasizing that love is an action and activity, Fromm (1956) states that love is the active interest we feel for the thing we love to live and develop, and where this active interest is absent, there is no love. According to Fromm: Loving someone is not just a strong feeling; it is a decision, a judgment, a promise. If love consisted only of emotion, there would be no need to promise to love each other until death. Emotions come and go.


If judgment and decision are not involved in the action, how can we know that that feeling will last until death? (p. 58)


The quotation highlights the importance of making a conscious choice to love someone, as this decision and judgment ensure that the feeling of love can withstand the test of time and endure until death. In other words, it is not enough to feel love; one must actively choose to love and commit to it for it to be a lasting and meaningful experience. Moreover, Fromm lists the essential elements that reveal the effectiveness of love as follows:

• interest

• responsibility

• respect

• information

Figure 6: The Little Prince (Sumberac, 2023).

The example of the rose in the book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry may be one of the best examples of the inseparability of the concepts of labor and love:

"It's the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important." (de Saint-Exupéry, 1942, p. 64)


Interest

Care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge are interconnected. These are behaviors that should be found together in a mature person. In other words, these are the characteristics that should be present in a person who uses their own powers to be creative, who only wants what they have worked for, who does not pursue narcissistic goals such as knowing everything and being able to do everything, and who has attained a humility that arises only from the inner confidence of being genuinely creative. (Fromm, 1956, p.37)


Responsibility

The essence of love is to work for something, to "grow something"; love and labor are inseparable. People love the things they work for, and they work hard for what they love. Another aspect of love is responsibility. Today, responsibility is understood as a task or something externally imposed on a person. However, responsibility in its true sense is an action that comes entirely from the heart; Whether explicit or implicit, it is our response to someone else's needs. Being responsible means being ready to "respond." The loving person responds. "Responsibility in an adult relationship means being able to respond to the spiritual needs of the other person. (Fromm, 1956, p. 33)


Respect and Knowledge

Respect is being able to see a person as they are and recognizing their unique individuality. In order to be respected, it is necessary to be independent. Respect exists only where there is freedom. In order to respect, it is necessary to know a person; without leadership, knowledge, interest, and responsibility will be blind. Knowledge is only possible if it is gained with interest. Knowledge has many layers. The knowledge that is part of love is not only external but also penetrates the core. (Fromm, 1956, p. 34)


Afterward, Fromm (1956) emphasizes that transcending oneself is as important as other needs. The person should be aware of this basic need, not be satisfied with being a mere creature, and should not accept themselves as a dice thrown randomly into the world.


Anyone who looks at life in the West from the outside will see that love is a very rare thing and will have no doubt that these loves are replaced by false loves, which are actually nothing but degenerated forms of love. In today's culture, people who can love are superior. Talking about love is not in vain; this means expressing an unchangeable and fundamental need in every human being. Just because this need has been pushed into the dark does not mean it does not exist at all. Believing that love can exist not only as an extraordinary individual phenomenon but also as a social phenomenon is a reasonable belief arising from knowing human nature well. (Fromm, 1956, p. 125)


Figure 7: Love (Indiana, 1967).

In the last part of the book, Fromm offers us an application section. There are no tactics or steps to practice the art of loving. Fromm (1956) says that we must learn by studying and focusing on it, with discipline, patience, and interest, just like other arts. On the way to achieving the ultimate goal, the art of loving, we must eliminate narcissism and take humility, reason, and objectivity as our companions.

At the end of the article, the sentences that are a summary of the book are from Meister Eckhart, theologian and philosopher, who Fromm also quotes from time to time:


If you love yourself, you will love others as yourself. If you love another less than you love yourself, you will not have any real success in loving yourself. But if you love everyone, including yourself, if you love them as one person, that person is both God and man. Thus, the person who loves himself and others alike is high and honest. (Eckart, n.d.)


Finally, the concepts and issues that Erich Fromm touched upon and wanted to draw attention to in his book The Art of Loving, published in 1956, still remain current. In today's world, where we see technology, the functioning of societies, adaptation to general trends, and the impact of popular culture on the masses, the same issues can still be considered a cause for anxiety. It would be advantageous to pause at this juncture and contemplate momentarily.


Bibliographical References

Burston, D. (1991). The Legacy of Erich Fromm. Harvard University Press.


de Saint-Exupery, A. (1942). The Little Prince.


Eckhart, Meister. (1327/1981). Meister Eckhart, the essential sermons, commentaries, treatises, and defence. New York: Paulist Press.


Funk, R. (2000). Erich Fromm: His Life and Ideas, An Illustrated Biography. A&C Black.


Fromm, E. (1956). The art of loving. Harper and Row.


Huxley, A. (1932). Brave new world. Vintage.

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1 Comment


Carol Lawrence
Carol Lawrence
Nov 23, 2023

As we navigate the intricate landscape of love, it's intriguing to ponder whether our understanding of this profound emotion has been shaped by romantic myths and societal expectations. The reference to Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving" adds depth to the exploration, suggesting that love may be a complex phenomenon requiring personal growth and maturity to truly comprehend. In the spirit of intellectual exploration, if you find yourself immersed in the world of essays and reflections, you might appreciate the insightful and articulate approach offered by https://www.grabmyessay.com/term-paper-writing-service essay writing service. Just as Fromm encourages us to contemplate the complexities of love, Grabmyessay specializes in crafting thought-provoking essays that stimulate the mind. After all, the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, whether…

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