I am very pleased to present another guest post from our good friend, Dawn Pine, aka The Male Brain, over in Israel. This week’s post is a longer, thoughtful piece on The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, and the lessons that our esteemed guest took from it. I am unfamiliar with Fromm’s work, so look into it if you have the time. You can buy the specific book referenced in this post right here.
I read a lot. It is because I’m used to it, but also for another reason. A YouTube video (if I recall correctly, it was of TEDx lecture) stated once that we do not have new problems (usually). Therefore, in that case, it is possible that someone had already written a book about it. If you read the book, you will have an answer.
I recently read that book. I recommend it. What I also recommend (apart from the seminal dissection of how our culture also lost the ability to love) is the last part. That part clearly discusses what you need to do in order to become “better” at the art of loving.
How to be Good at Art
Fromm claims, and with no doubt about it, that art requires several demands if one wishes to become good at it. This is not a DIY thing, but more of a general advice.
Art Requires Discipline
You are never going to excel (not the software, the noun) unless you use discipline in order to do it – again and again. If you “feel like it”, it may be a fun hobby. Fromm claims that on paper, the modern man should be able to master discipline. After all, we work ~9 hours a day on a job that mandates us to do things. This is not the case. Most people once they are off work counter react to it by slouching (screens are just that). Moreover, because “authority” compels us to work, people become suspicious of authority, even if it is for their own good. The result is of course – chaos.
Art Requires Concentration
As a father of teenagers, I know that this one is a main one. If you want to master anything, you have to concentrate. Our culture is one of the main reasons for “attention deficit” (read: inability to concentrate). Multitasking is considered a virtue (good luck with that) and no one wants to actually meditate. Take a random person and make him sit quietly – in a minute, that person will become restless. No one is able to concentrate, which means that no one will be able to master anything.
Art Requires Patience
To achieve anything (other than a participation trophy) one must work and have patience. Discipline and concentration are just a step on the way to the achievement. Without patience, there are no long-term achievements. Our culture, on the other hand, values the opposite – speed is a virtue. I’m no saint, and I also appreciate promptness, but I can see people today not even bothering to “ask the Almighty Google” if they don’t know.
Fromm also claims that if you gained time (by doing things quicker), you still need a plan of what to do with it. “Killing time” is not an option for good usage of your most valuable asset.
Art Requires Intent
Lord help us all on this one. I constantly see this – people start something, and move on within a few heartbeats. In order to be proficient in anything one must prioritise it at the highest degree.
You want to be a programmer. Good – now invest hours every day to become one – show intent.
You want a great muscular body. Good – now go to the gym everyday and work right – show intent.
I could go on and on, but the point is clear. Apart from watching the screens I don’t see much of an intent around. My elder came to me a few years ago and wanted to audition for a local “got talent” show. Told her that until she shows intent, which meant she should drop other things and regularly practice – there is no chance (I also don’t want to feed the rating monster, but that is another thing).
How to Learn Artistry
Fromm claims that one cannot just “go and learn it” directly. One should start with the basics. For example, if one wishes to play the guitar, one needs to learn chords (and scales). If you want to meditate, you first practice breathing. If you want to be good at sport, you start with the basics, which sometimes are only indirectly related.
In order to practice art, one needs to start with practising discipline, concentration and patience. Intent cannot be taught.
Practising patience is actually quite easy – get up early, work hard and avoid luxury. Go to any serious, accomplished culture, philosophy or religion and you’ll find those recommendations. However, that discipline should come from “the inside” and not “from the outside” (read: manifestation of your own will rather than being forced on you).
Practising concentration is harder. Fromm suggested to have alone time. Be with yourself and do nothing. Your rationalisation hamster will spin faster than the earth and come up with the “That’s stupid, worthless and takes too much time”. Apart from that, always single-task and never multi-task. When you eat, just eat (one of my greatest “sins”), when you read – just read and when you talk to someone – just talk to them.
Patience is less mentioned, but my understanding is that when one practices concentration, patience comes along. However, Fromm shifts his focus to “concentrating on others”.
This means that one should “listen to others”. Not just hear them, but also concentrate on what they say. This will create the ability to concentrate on others. It also means that we need to focus on ourselves – what do we feel? Are there any changes? What created them?
How to Practice the Art of Love
In order to love (once the conditions are met – we know how to concentrate, have the discipline and developed patient) one needs to set our sights on objects of appreciation. People with great moral virtues, people who care (really care) about other people or people who show us how to be a great human being are those that we are looking for. That object allows us to focus on what we want to be, so we may become like them. Without good examples, claims Fromm (and he is totally correct), the culture will dismantle itself shortly. He provides the case of Communism as an example (the book was published in 1956) in which the “societal examples” did not have matching virtue.
The next thing is overcoming our inherent narcissism. In my words it is called: “Tell the truth”. If something does not affect me personally, it is “not real”. Females are great examples of that, but so are kids. If you recognise reality “as it is”. An example is a woman calling her doctor and asking to come see him today. When the doctor explains that there are no slots available, she says “but I’m 5 minutes away”. She saves time, so he saves time. Reality is what I experience.
There are less extreme cases of that, such as parents looking down on their kids because they don’t do as they are told, or nations looking down on other nations because “what we do is ok and what they do is wrong” (even if it is the same thing). Objectivity is not the norm.
However, being objective requires another virtue – humility. When one is humble, one can grasp reality because the narcissism is reduced and objectivity takes its place. I look at someone else as they are and not as what I want them to be, or what I need them to be.
We are now halfway there. One more thing is missing – faith.
Faith not in the religious sense, but on a fruitful combination of mind, thought and deep emotion. Having faith is also to trust someone, based on what you know of them. It is also about trusting ourselves – as we know and feel us. We trust them to continue to be there, evolve, grow and be happy.
Faith, Fromm claims, is not of the irrational kind. Irrational faith, defines Fromm, is a faith in reducing the self and submitting to an all-powerful external force. For him it is the opposite of productivity. When one submits himself and loses himself, he forfeits courage and the ability to risk. Those are essence in learning how to love.
Can You practice the Art of Love?
For there to be love, one first must have faith. Yet faith is not a path to love, Fromm claims – rather, courage is. It is not the courage of living a life of danger, but one of the ability to risk and experience pain and disappointment. As we know, those who want security will not have freedom. If security is your number one priority, you will not have faith – and therefore no love. Putting security first means that you imprison – either yourself or your “loved one”. This is why you don’t “mate guard” – not because it is the Beta thing to do (IT IS!) but because you don’t love – you control.
So how can one practice love?
Fromm says that you must start in your day-to-day life. One should start to observe the instances in which one loses faith. You need faith to get through your day – work, sleep, and interact. If one does not have faith, it shows – hypochondria, insomnia, and anxiety. This is why 30% of American female are on psychiatric prescriptions – they lack that type of faith.
If you can spot those instances, look at the excuses you provide for them. Have you been cheated? So you tell yourself that you are afraid to have faith, or you might cheat yourself. This creates a feedback loop of negative consequences. That means that even if you knowingly are afraid of not being loved, it seems that unknowingly you are afraid to love.
To love is to have no guarantee that the other side will love you back. Love begets love, and those who have little faith, are lacking in love.
One last thing from Fromm – love is an activity. No, not that of bringing flowers and serenading, it is an internal activity. To love is to use your internal forces to communicate and be with your loved one. Listening, being alert and awaken to the other – that is the essence of loving. The only time you are allowed inactivity, is when you sleep. When you are awake – don’t be lazy. Fromm claims that modern man is only half-awake. There is no cognitive activity when you are passive (say when watching TV).
If one is productive in love, one will be productive everywhere. You cannot be productive in one thing and unproductive at others. You want to love? Be intense, be alert and have increased vitality.
Conclusion and Criticism
Let’s start with the “bad” and move to the good.
Fromm has a combination of light socialism and atheism in his book. However, he bases some of his calls to action on religion. That is fine, for what it is, but also needs to be addressed. And the idealism in his book is compelling, but I subscribe to school of thought “Totality is not a good thing”. I don’t see how one can have the same energy in love and everywhere. Even if one is an active person, you don’t invest the same energy in every activity – you’ll run out shortly.
The worst thing is – he belonged to the Frankfurt School. Yes, those neo-Marxists who wrecked Western civilisation.
On the “good” side – the book makes you think. The guy has done a great work on analyzing those “agreed upon” notion and comes up with interesting and clever insights. In Judaism, we have a saying: “There is wisdom among the nations” (Eichah Rabbah 2:13). The proverb means that even non-believers may have wisdom that is useful.
I’ll finish by recommending the book. Read it, and see for yourself.
And we’re back to yer very ‘eavy, very ‘umble ‘ost here. Firstly, many thanks to our good friend, Dawn Pine, for yet another superb contribution to the site. This is a piece that really made me sit up and think while I was (lightly) editing it, and it probably made you do the same as a reader.
There are three things that you should focus on in your own life as a consequence of this piece.
The first is that you MUST learn the basics – of anything. There are no shortcuts or easy paths to success. I’ve written about this over and over and over again in The Agoge, and it is an absolutely critical lesson. You must always focus on learning the basics of anything – or, as I’ve said in the past, “learn the rules – then break the rules”. That is how you achieve mastery of any practice or art.
The second is that multitasking is a sure path to failure. Having had to engage in plenty of that sort of nonsense in the past, I agree entirely with this sentiment. Multitasking ensures mediocrity. Focus on doing one thing at a time – and doing it to the absolute best of your ability. Then move on to the next thing. That is how you focus and how you win.
The third, and most important, lesson lies in the point that love is an active application of conscious desire. You must will yourself to love – it doesn’t magically “happen”, no matter what those soppy stupid old romantic stories tell you. In order to love, you have to focus your attentions and energies on something or someone other than yourself. This is EXTREMELY difficult, which is why most of us are actually really bad at it. Many of us have lost the capacity for real, true, active love.
For all that Fromm was a neo-Marxist member of the Frankfurt School, and therefore deserves to burn in Hell for what he and his colleagues wrought upon us, that is not to say that he was entirely wrong about all things. Read about his writings and decide for yourself whether his work is worth reading. Take from it what is useful, and leave behind all of the dreck and stupidity about how human rebellion against God was a good thing – it WASN’T.
As with all things, you have the freedom to make up your own mind. If nothing else, The Male Brain‘s explanation of the theory is well worth considering.