I just completed reading Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving, which is an amazing book, not only because it is a delightful read, but also because it is really useful. It tells you things you think you know but not really and, in a way, is an answer to some existential questions. Plus it breaks some of Freud’s theories, which is always good. Overall, a must read, I would actually make it mandatory reading in school. We should all learn the art of loving above anything else.
One thing that stuck with me was the idea that we choose consciously to go through life zombie-like (you know, when we are working we dream of playing, when we are playing we dream of sleeping, when we are sleeping we dream of working – literally). It’s what we do, we basically choose to be miserable and live each moment as it’s not our own.
It sounds a lot like the big cliché of carpe diem that is used by advertising for anything today, but Fromm explains that everything we do is related to fighting one extremely long-lived human enemy: separateness, the feeling related to the fact that the man is the only being aware of himself, of his aloneness, his helplessness against the forces of nature and society, of his short existence in this world. Everything that man does is to overcome the anxiety that comes with separateness. In brief, separateness is the source of all anxiety in humans and it arouses feelings of shame and guilt (analogy here with Adam and Eve’s “apple incident”: they saw that they were naked and felt shame; by the way, Adam is a little snitch, did you ever think about it? He immediately tells God that Eve did it!).
How do we fight it? Fromm shows a few human habits that are aimed at killing separateness:
- Religion, animal worship, invention of all kinds of gods (one of the taglines of religion is “you are never alone, someone is watching over you”)
- Military conquests or human sacrifice
- Indulgence in luxury
- Ascetic renunciation
- Orgiastic states induced by drugs, alcohol or even sex (orgiastic union)
- Other forms of union chosen by man in the past and present:
- Conformity. Even if we, as individuals, have the feeling that we are free to express ourselves and make decisions on our lives, we arrived at our opinions by our own thinking but our ideas are the same as those of the majority.
- Work routine and pleasure routine: we are told what to do, how to act (job requirements contain things like “cheerful, reliable, ambitious, team player”; pleasure is also uniform: partying, coffee with friends and so on)
- Creative activity: the artist unites himself with the material, which is the world outside of him.
Unity achieved by orgiastic fusion is temporary, union achieved by conformity is pseudo-unity and the one from productive work is not interpersonal. Fromm insists that the only answer to the problem of existence is interpersonal love. Which is an art, and like all arts, can be taught: first you learn the theory, and then you get to practice it. The book goes on to teach the theory of art of loving and a few guidelines about practicing it.
What I learned from the book:
- My thoughts are not my own, like everyone else, I need to fit in, even though I rebel against the idea; just that I want to fit in a certain circle rather than the entire society
- Loving can be taught; loving doesn’t refer only to specific people but to everyone, nature and all things
- Loving is a state of mind, not something you actively do. You need to teach yourself to love
- When I do something, my life is that moment and dreaming of doing other things is just an indication that the thing I am doing doesn’t bring me pleasure. I should either change it or do it at the best of my abilities. So until any change occurs, I focus on the latter
- Moments are good if you are 100% in them, even if what you are doing is not something you are crazy about. Yes, the horror, you can be happy with the status quo if you decide to actually live in it
- Loving yourself is not equivalent with being selfish. Actually, you have to love yourself in the process of loving, it’s impossible to love other people if you don’t have deep feelings for yourself. It all starts with you
- I am just a grain in the sand, nothing more, nothing less. So, this should bring me a little bit more humility
- I discovered Eric Fromm. And I love him!