The art of loving

The art of loving

There is so much talk about love in the media, in films, in novels and poetry that one finds it difficult to know what exactly this love is. A Every...

There is so much talk about love in the media, in films, in novels and poetry that one finds it difficult to know what exactly this love is. A Every day we see on TV screens and read in newspapers that some lovers committed suicide as their elders did not give their consent to their marriage. Of late, we have been hearing about honour killings. If a boy loves a girl who does not belong to his caste and marries her, village panchayat chiefs (khap) deliver judgments to the effect that they be killed. And the lovers are put to death in the name of honour killings.

We hear also of another type of violence in the name of love. A teenage boy falls in love with a teenage girl. But the girl doesn't respond. He throws acid on her face or resorts to raping her or may even kill her. It is shocking that so much of violence is taking place in the name of love. A Our movies are glorifying to the maximum love in technicolor. Practically there is no film which doesn't project love in larger-than-life angle. The hero and the heroine fall in love; first they quarrel with each other. Later, they fall in love and start singing duets at the most beautiful tourist places on earth.

In engineering colleges or medical colleges, boys and girls are shown falling in love and singing duets, but they are never shown attending classes. A lot of beautiful poetry and thousands of novels and plays have also been written glorifying love. A Bernard Shaw said that he need not sit in a theatre for three hours just to see somebody falling in love with somebody else; and that a play should depict a contemporary social problem.

To have a deep understanding of love, I have gone through a book entitled 'The Art of Loving'. This beautiful little book on love was written by famous psychologist and humanist Erich Fromm in 1957. It will be a great eye-opener to the concept of love to the present generation who think that mere infatuation is love.

Erich Fromm, in the foreword to this book, says: "The reading of this book would be a disappointing experience for anyone who expects any instruction in the art of loving. This book, on the contrary, wants to show that love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone regardless of the level of maturity reached by him.

"It wants to convince the reader that all his attempts at love are bound to fail unless he tries most actively to develop his total personality, so as to achieve a productive orientation, that satisfaction in individual love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one's neighbour, without true humility, courage, faith and discipline."

Accepting that loving is an art, in the first chapter 'Is Loving an Art?', Fromm says: "Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one's capacity to love. Hence, the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable. In pursuit of this aim, they follow several paths. One which is especially used by men is: to be successful, to be as powerful and rich as the social margin of one's position permits: Another, used especially by women, is to make oneself attractive, by cultivating one's body, dress etc.

"Other way of making oneself attractive used both by men and women are to develop pleasant manners, interesting conversations, to be helpful, modest, and inoffensive. Most people in our culture mean by being lovable is essentially a mixture between being popular and having sex appeal."

The other two main chapters in this book are 'The Theory of Love' and 'The Practice of Love'. In the theory of Love, Fromm says that man is aware of his separateness and this awareness makes him merge with his fellow beings. "The deepest need of man, then is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness. The absolute failure to achieve this aim means insanity, because the panic of complete isolation can be overcome only by such a radical withdrawal from the world outside that the feeling of separation disappears � because the world outside from which one is separated, disappears".

There are many ways of fighting this separateness, like worshipping God, or concentrating on productive work, etc. The unity achieved in productive work is not interpersonal. It is transitory unity. The full answer to the problem of separateness lies in the achievement of interpersonal union, of fusion with another person, in love.

"This desire for interpersonal fusion is the most powerful striving in man. It is the most fundamental passion; it is the force which keeps the human race together, the clan, the family, the society. The failure to achieve it means insanity or destruction � self-destruction or destruction of others. Without love, humanity could not exist for a day". But, according to Fromm, love is of two kinds. One is "mature love" and the other is "immature forms of love".

Immature forms of love are called "symbiotic union". The passive form of symbiotic union, according to Fromm, is that of total submission, that is, in clinical terms, "masochism". The masochistic person does not have to make decisions, does not have to take risks, he is never alone but he is not independent, he has not integrity, he is not yet fully born. The active form of symbiotic fusion is domination or, to use a psychological term, "sadism". The sadistic person wants to escape from his aloneness and his sense of imprisonment by making another person part and parcel of himself. He inflates and enhances himself by incorporating another person who worships him.

In contrast to symbiotic union, mature love is union under the condition of preserving one's integrity, one's individuality. Love is a power in man, a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness. Yet, it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity.

In love the paradox occurs that his being becomes one and yet � remains two. Love is an activity, not passive effect; it is a "standing in" not a "falling for". In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving. A Generally, love in most people's perception is: romantic love or erotic love. But there are other forms of love like motherly love, brotherly love, self love, love of God, etc. Fromm discusses all these forms of love and his analysis is highly enlightening.

In the chapter 'Love � Disintegration in Western Society', Fromm says under capitalism, just like other consumer goods, love too becomes a commodity. In the chapter 'The practice of love', he says "The ability to love" depends on one's capacity to emerge from "narcissism" and from the incestuous fixation to mother and clan; it depends on our capacity to grow, to develop a productive orientation to our relationship towards the world and ourselves.

The process of emergence of birth, of waking up, requires one quality or a necessary condition: that is faith. The practice of the art of loving requires the practice of faith. Then Fromm asks: "What is faith? His answer is: Even to begin to understand the problem of faith, one must differentiate between rational and irrational faith. By irrational faith I understand the belief (in a person or an idea) which is based on one's submission to irrational authority.

"In contrast, rational faith is a conviction which is rooted in one's own experience of thought or feeling. Rational faith is not primary belief in something, but the quality of certainty and firmness which our convictions have. Faith is a character trait pervading the whole personality, rather than a specific belief".

(The writer can be reached at

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