The Art of Loving: Love Yourself [book review]

LovingI just completed reading Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving, which is a fantastic book, not only because it is a delightful read but also because it is beneficial. It tells you things you think you know but do not and, in a way, is an answer to some existential questions. Plus, it breaks some of Freud’s theories, which is always good. Overall, it is a must-read; I would make it mandatory in school. We should all learn the art of loving above anything else.

One thing that stuck with me was that we consciously choose 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 choose to be miserable and live each moment as if it’s not our own.

It sounds like the big cliché of carpe diem used by advertising for anything today. Still, Fromm explains that everything we do is related to fighting one extremely long-lived human enemy: separateness, the feeling connected to the fact that 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. Therefore, everything that man does is to overcome the anxiety that comes with separateness. In brief, separateness is the source of all tension 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, the 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, feel free to express ourselves and make decisions in our lives, we arrive at our opinions through 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 and 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, 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. This is an art, and like all arts, it can be taught: first, you learn the theory, and then you get to practice it. The book introduces the idea of the art of loving and a few guidelines about practising 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 particular 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 at that moment, and dreaming of doing other things is just an indication that the thing I am doing doesn’t bring me pleasure. So I should either change it or do it to 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. So yes, you can be happy with the status quo if you decide to live in it.
  • Loving yourself is not equivalent to being selfish. 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!

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