Monday, August 20, 2012
Erich Fromm and The Art Of Loving (part 2)
Sorry I'm not sorry for my recent obsession with Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving."
Erich Fromm stresses the basic elements common to all forms of love:
"Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love." One can say that a person loves dogs yet if we see this same person forgets to feed his pet or doesn't have time to take it out for exercise, we do not believe in this person's love. "Where this active concern is lacking, there is no love." The essence of love is based on your labor, "to make something grow."
Fromm uses a biblical example for this element: the relationship between Cain and Abel. Cain could ask "Am I my brother's keeper?" Fromm notes that to be responsible means "to be able to respond to the expressed/unexpressed needs of another human being." whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally. Thus, when Cain denied responsibility for his brother's life, it is apparent that he doesn't know the connection: A loving person will feel responsible for his fellowmen as he feels responsible for himself.
Respect "means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is." This element is what keeps the sense of responsibility from turning into domination and possessiveness. It is the absence of exploitation, to let the loved one grow for their own sake and not for our own. Fromm reminds us that respect for the other person is possible only if one has achieved independence. When you're independent, you won't use your love object as a crutch, and there is no need to dominate or exploit.
"Knowledge would be empty if it were not motivated by concern." Fromm notes that there are many layers of knowledge in which one must be able to transcend his self-concern and see the other person in their own terms. Most mature couples know when the other is angry, sad, or tired, even if he/she doesn't show it. What they also know is that some of these feelings are only manifestations of something deeper, such as suffering, trauma, embarassment, etc.
Our desire in knowing each other roots in our need to know "the secret of man." We may know our family, our friends and loved ones, and we may know ourselves. But the truth is, we only know others to the same extent that we know ourselves, even with the effort of soul-searching. We truly don't know ourselves because the goal of knowledge eludes us. This is the same desire that can deteriorate into sadism: to have complete power over another human being to make him "betray his secret in suffering."
Fromm reminds us that the other path to knowing is love. "Love is the only way of knowledge, which in the act of union answers my quest." Human beings are an enigma of themselves, thus, Fromm writes "The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love: the act transcends thought, it transcends words."
He also attributes this pursuit of knowledge to the religious problem of knowing God. People assume they know God by making statements about him, by reading about him, by abiding the rules laid down by our religious authorities, but it is in the experience of union with God that there is no longer a need for knowledge about God.
These elements are attitudes to be found in mature people who put their independence, dignity, and humility, first and foremost.