Thursday, February 23, 2006

People, I did not realize that trying to learn the "nature of love" is quite a complex process. There must be literally millions of definitions out there (ranging from the Bible to Shakespeare's sonnets to Elizabeth Browning's love poems to the book The Aphorisms of Love (aka Kama Sutra, haha!)). But maybe the most radical and surprising definition I have read is contained in Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving."

Erich Fromm was a renowned psychologist (1900-1980) and a psychoanalyst from the Frankfurt School in Germany. Being a true psychologist concerned in the societal influences on man, he is a political activist-humanist against oppressive governments and economic systems during his time. His book "The Art of Loving" is a book that has opened the minds of millions at a time when there is much need.

Below is the review/paraphrase of the book.

Fromm starts of with his disclaimer that the book is not a self-help book. It does not tell you a step-by-step plan on how to love (or find happiness). Quite the contrary it tells you that it is you who can only understand love's essence by doing-it-yourself.

First of all, the problem is that our society as a whole does not know the meaning of Love. More concretely, the socio-economic structure we live under does not encourage the act of loving but rather isolates all of us from each other and even ourselves. This does not mean that some people do not know how to love. It only means that society hinders the development of love and its preservation. For example, corporations follow the social-darwinist view of "survival of the fittest" by cut-throat competition and big-business mergers and only regard lay-offs as a "business necessity." Everything in our "globalized free-market" world today is essentially commodified ---from medicine to intelectual property to even love itself. The human aspect of things (i.e. things that are not bought) are taken out of the picture. We are bombarded by the importance of accumulating or "having" as opposed to the real object of "being". We rather accumulate property and are obsessed with the goal of "having" things (e.g. having a lot of money, a lot of women, a lot of clothes, etc.) as if everything can be made into objects which can be bought, eaten, or owned. Even our treatment of the people we say we love is akin to us owning them or "having" them as opposed to "being" with them. This process of "alienation," according to Fromm, not only separates us from each other but also with ourselves and further away from true happiness (and love).

Furthermore, love (as many are mistaken) is not passion. Although passion is a component/consequence of love (together with intimacy and commitment), it is not love in itself. Love in actuality is a form of activity (action) as opposed to passivity (passion). Passion is such that you "get sucked into it." With passion, you are the object of your emotions. With love, you are the actor (subject). Love is rather something you do, that you give. It comes at a certain level of development of a person (and a person can also regress into not loving due to factors like escapism or avoidance of pain). We only know of a parent loving a baby. The baby does not love the parent but needs the parent. Baby learns to love when at a certain age (around 11 years old) he/she learns to reciprocate that, in effect, the child learns that in actuality "giving is better than receiving."

Love, Fromm continues, is also multifaceted and has many forms. Motherly love, fatherly love, love between friends, love between "lovers", love for country, love for God, self-love, love for humanity. However, love in essence is love, and love is manifested in all these forms. One cannot truly love a "lover" if he/she does not love her mother. You cannot selectively choose who to love. When you love one, you love all. Although, the form of love you give to one person is may be of a different form as what you give to another, but it is love nevertheless. For example, love for friends is qualitatively different as love between "lovers." The former is inclusive (the more true friends, the better), and the latter is exclusive (why? I suggest you read the book, sorry). On the other hand, a person who does not know how to love friends may not know how to love that someone "special." Also, a person who does not love him/herself may not know how to love others.

Fromm says that self-love is different from selfishness. Actually, they are polar opposites. A selfish person actually has no love for him/herself (like a narcissist in constant search of something). On the other hand, one who loves oneself is not selfish but rather "wants" to give and, hence, love.

Fromm also says that love is infectious. Someone who loves is lovable. People love a person who loves because he/she emanates the real essential beauty and happiness that others are looking for in their own lives and are infected by the one who loves.

In the end, loving is something we all want to achieve. But the power of love is not something that can be found from without. Love comes from within. If we are looking for that perfect someone who we are "destined to love," we definitely are looking for love in the wrong places. While others can support the love we have or "fan the flame," the primary factor is that we ourselves must learn to love. In this aspect there is really no fundamental difference in parental marriage of our foreparents and the contemporary style of finding our own mate. The only difference is in the societal development wherein society gives the individual his/her freedom to choose (which I agree really should happen). However, the problem of today is that even when many of us are "free to choose" who to marry, in reality we are still chained by still being the objects of our own desires.

If we really want to know how to love, we must then transcend society's destructive forces alienating us from each other (and ourselves), treat others not as objects but as subjects immersed in beauty and being, and practice the act of giving not as an obligation but rather because, in the end, "we just want to."


At 10:08 PM, Anonymous @gentK said...

I am here. Finally. Not suprised though for as the old adage goes, "forwarned is forarmed." Ei, kuya?


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