When you read that title, did you think of Valentine’s hearts or your spouse/significant other or your kids? What about kittens or flowers? How about hot dogs?
Hot dogs? Sure! I’m positive you’ve heard at least one person during your life time say, “I love hot dogs.” Is that the same as loving your spouse?
A friend recently pointed out the lack of variety and specificity in the English language when it comes to the word love. Even when speaking of only humans, he asked, is the love one feels for a parent the same as the love felt for a child, a friend, a lover?
His question brought to mind a book I’d read many years ago. The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm was actually written in 1956. I read it in college during the early 1970’s. Fromm, a psychoanalyst, sets out to show that “love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone, regardless of the level of maturity reached by that person.” He suggests, instead, that love is an art, something that requires knowledge and effort.
Fromm states, “Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love.” This is sadly still true, 50 years since that statement was written. Billions of dollars are spent on clothing, make-up and other products to help us be more lovable and better able to attract love. His assessment that most people believe being lovable is a mixture of being popular and having sex appeal. You only need watch TV for a few hours to see the numerous commercials aimed at just that belief.
While on the one hand decrying the fact that people think that to love is simple and that finding the right object to love is difficult, he goes on to identify 5 types of love based on the object of that love: brotherly love; motherly love; erotic love; self-love; love of God. Sadly, he never develops any language to help us in differentiating among the types.
So why am I bothering to post about a book that doesn’t do what I want it to do. I think that some of the ideas expressed in it are truly valuable, and should not be ignored in a world that has drifted (some would say catapulted) even farther from understanding that love is not a thing and that loving is far from easy.
Rather than expound pedantically on theories, I think it is better for you and me to reflect on some statements to better know our own understanding of love.
“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This … 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.”
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one ‘object’ of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism.”
“If I truly love one person, I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else, ‘I love you,’ I must be able to say, ‘I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself.’ ”
“To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. To love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.”
There are many other thoughts in this book, of course. My choice of which to offer here is simply a reflection of my understanding of love. They are some of the ideas that “speak to me.” You may or may not agree with either my choices or the value I place on them.
But think about them nonetheless. Even the process of thinking about something with which you disagree is helpful in attaining the goal of self growth and becoming the best you that you can be.
Then step out in faith and love. It is an activity, a verb, not a noun. After you’ve thought about it, DO IT.