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The Most Important Art You Must Learn

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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

Featured photo credit: Love/las initially via flickr.com

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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