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The Most Important Art You Must Learn
Is Love an art? It requires knowledge and effort. Or is Love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one “falls into” if one is lucky? A little book is based on the former premise, while the majority of people today believe in the latter.
Reading this passage from Erich Fromm’s book, The Art of Loving (Harper and Row, 1956), would make those who barely know him and his books think he wrote it in recent years. Surprisingly, the book was published in 1956. After 58 years the book still rings timeless wisdom on how Love is the most important art everyone must learn.
Here are some thought-provoking insights that will help you understand how to live Love as an art:
“BEING LOVED” vs. “LOVING”
Erich Fromm points out that many people tend to think Love is about being loved by someone. To be loved by the perfect person, you need to be perfect in all aspects of your personality. That is just too stressful, for no one can live up to the perfection of others. To learn Love as an art is to know “one’s capacity for Loving.” And that is learned first by understanding this problem:
The problem of OBJECT vs. FACULTY
Because people think they have to wait or search for the perfect object of Love who can give them Love they need, they do not think Love is a problem of faculty. Faculty refers to our capacities of not just thinking but also feeling, contemplation, intuition, imagination, understanding and decision-making.
Sadly, our notion of Love points out just one special romantic object and a specific romantic relationship that ultimately we miss the whole point of the art of Loving itself, which is:
Love is an ATTITUDE
Erich Fromm emphasizes that Love cannot be just for a single object or person while excluding all others. The art of Loving is about actively developing an attitude that you Love the humanity in every person as you express your Love to a particular person. Anyone can practice this art by having this profound attention and interest in knowing oneself, the other and the world, and there are simple practices to do it:
Love is a practice of KNOWLEDGE
Erich Fromm reminds firmly that Love is about knowing oneself as well as the other. He writes: “Love is the only way of knowledge…” He compares this to the ancient motto know thyself, believed to be quoted by Socrates. Knowledge of oneself is fundamental to knowing, caring, respecting and responding to others, the elements by which Love becomes possible.
Love is a practice of CONCENTRATION
Erich Fromm suggests concentration is a very challenging practice. What he meant by concentration is about three concentration practices: meditation, listening and paying attention to the present moment. We never thought of this, but for those who meditate in whatever form, their practice has led them somehow in also mastering listening and paying attention. Love as an art is no different from these three practices, and you’ll learn for yourself how the nature of Love can be so profound and so practical at the same time.
Love is a practice of HAVING FAITH in ONESELF
It’s not surprising in the Internet age we have read so much about sense of purpose, sense of meaning, self-compassion, self-acceptance, following one’s heart, and many others that point out to what Erich Fromm calls the practice of faith. And he points out this is not about blind faith, which he thinks is irrational, but having a rational faith, or being firm of one’s conviction. If you have faith in yourself that you can do great, you can make a difference, then you are practicing this art.
Love as an art, according to Erich Fromm, is primarily an “inner activity,” the “power of the soul.” You learn Love then you Love. Ultimately, you live Love both as a learning and as an action. This is as much true as it was when Erich Fromm’s book was published. This makes it a truly important art that we must learn in our lives.
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