Study and Theory/
Tu B'Av

Erich Fromm

Love as an Art

Excerpts from The Art Of Love

The deepest need of man, then, is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness. (9)

 

The unity achieved in productive work is not interpersonal; the unity achieved in orgiastic fusion is transitory; the unity achieved by conformity is only pseudo-unity. Hence, they are only partial answers to the problem of existence. The full answer lies in the achievement of personal union, of fusion with another person, in love. (18)

 

In contrast to symbiotic union, mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two. (20-21)

 

Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a “standing in”, not a “falling for”. In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving. (22)

 

Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power.

This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive,

hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness. (23)

 

What does one person give to another? He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. This does not necessarily mean that he sacrifices his life for the other—but that he gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness—

of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person; he enhances the other's sense of aliveness by enhancing his own sense of aliveness. He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him; in truly giving, he cannot help receiving that which is given back to him. Giving implies to make the other person a giver also and they both share in the joy of what they have brought to life. In the act of giving something is born, and both persons involved are grateful for the life that is born for both of them. Specifically with regard to love this means: love is a power which produces love; (24-25)

 

Beyond the element of giving, the active character of love becomes evident in the fact that it always implies certain basic elements, common to all forms of love. These are:  care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. (26)

 

The basic need to fuse with another person so as to transcend the prison of one's separateness is closely related to another specifically human desire, that to know the "secret of man"... Love is the only way of knowledge, which in the act of union answers my quest. In the act of loving... I find myself, I discover myself, I discover us both, and I discover man. (30-31)

 

The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love: this act transcends thought, it transcends words. It is the daring plunge into the experience of union. However, knowledge in thought, that is psychological knowledge, is a necessary condition for full knowledge in the act of love. I have to know the other person and myself objectively, in order to be able to see his reality, or rather, to overcome the illusions, the irrationally distorted picture I have of him.  Only if I know a human being objectively, can I know him in his ultimate essence, in the act of love. (31)

 

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, in the person who develops his own powers productively, who only wants to have that which he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on the inner strength which only genuine productive activity can give. (32-33)

 

If there were more depth in the experience of the other person, one could experience the infiniteness of his personality, the other person would never be so familiar—and the miracle of overcoming the barriers might occur every day anew. (53)

 

To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. (56)

 

The idea expressed in the Biblical "Love thy neighbor as thyself !" implies that respect for one's own integrity and uniqueness, love for and understanding of one's own self, cannot be separated from respect and love and understanding for another individual. ... my own self must be as much an object of my love as another person. (...) If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too; if he can love only others, he cannot love at all. (58-60)

 

One other frequent error must be mentioned here: The illusion, namely, that love means necessarily the absence of conflict. Just as it is customary for people to believe that pain and sadness should be avoided under all circumstances, they believe that love means the absence of any conflict. (...) Real conflicts between two people, those which do not serve to cover up or to project, but which are experienced on the deep level of inner reality to which they belong, are not destructive.  They lead to clarification; they produce a catharsis from which both persons emerge with more knowledge and more strength. This leads us to emphasize again something said above. (...)   Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this "central experience" is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized. (102-103)

 

The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one's narcissism. [...] the opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one's desires and fears. (118)

 

The faculty to think objectively is reason; the emotional attitude behind reason is that of humility. To be objective, to use one's reason, is possible only if one has achieved an attitude of humility, if one has emerged from the dreams of omniscience and omnipotence which one has as a child. (120)

 

The ability to love depends on one's capacity... to grow, to develop a productive orientation in our relationship toward the world and ourselves. This process of emergence, of birth, of waking up, requires one quality as a necessary condition: faith. The practice of the art of loving requires the practice of faith. (121)

 

To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. (126)

 

While one is consciously afraid of not being loved, the real, though usually unconscious fear is that of loving. (114)

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