This is Part 2 of a two-part post on Love. Click here to read Part 1.
What’s your philosophy of love? In my last post, I shared a book resource that looked at love through the lens of neuroscience. This next book recommendation invites you to consider your connection to the art of love and the practice of loving.
As I already mentioned in my last post, I’m sharing two books that I deeply appreciate, specifically on the topic of love: 1) A General Theory of Love for the scientifically-oriented and 2) The Art of Loving for those more philosophically-minded. As I enjoy exercising both the scientific and philosophical modes of my thinking self, I’m suggesting two books that examine the concept of love from different perspectives in order to offer something to either complement your preferred way of learning or perhaps to challenge you to look through a new lens at a familiar topic.
I tend to reread both of these books around the turn of the New Year through Valentine’s Day annually to check in on how my own perspective may have changed or transformed each year.
Reading both of these books is a wonderful way to get in deeper touch with your inner self as there are numerous catalysts for creative thinking and “wholehearted” feeling as you engage with the texts – whether through scribbling on the actual pages (as I do with all my favorite books) to mark all the central ideas and enduring understandings that I want to keep in my consciousness for further reflection.
I emphasized “wholehearted” in quotes because it’s a term that researcher Brené Brown has gained much public attention and praise in recent years for her work on the topic of “wholeheartedness” and vulnerability. You may want to check out her work as it interconnects and complements any investigations into what love is – especially for parents!
Sometimes I work through my thinking by journaling and recording my responses to what I read as I wade through my own thought processes. Clarity and coherence has a chance to emerge in this way. In teaching we call this “constructing meaning”, which is so important for learners of all ages. Whatever you choose to do to interact with the content of these books, I’m sure you’ll gain much from reading them!
Parenthood has been a major factor in shaping my expanding reading choices. The transformative changes we experience as we become responsible for a child go far beyond the daily tasks and questions about how to deal with difficult behavior, what the best toys to buy are or what school to choose for our kids. That’s not to say that these aren’t important areas to navigate and make informed choices about, but rather, to recognize that we seldom pause to acknowledge that love is the foundation for our relationships in our families, with ourselves and with our friends and communities.
Love spirals out and interconnects in our lives whether we are aware of it or not. Focusing on a conscious awareness and practicing the the kind of love that moves us in the right direction for a sense of wellbeing and vitality is a worthy intention – for ourselves and for our children.
Now, let’s turn our attention to Erich Fromm’s book, The Art of Loving (Harper Perennial, 2006 edition). I have to say that although this book was written by a psychoanalyst, I find it has the feel of a great philosophical book. If you want data and facts, this book may be frustrating and challenging for you. The mode of feeling and creative thinking are likely your best processing partners as you engage with Fromm’s book.
Erich Fromm’s book can help you in your quest for personal growth and meaningful inner work. He brings together various concepts of love in a clearly outlined model of what he calls “productive love”. For those of us who want and need more details of what kind of love serves our wellbeing, the wellbeing of our children and the wellbeing of the larger communities in which we live, here’s a peek at the “mutually interdependent” components of “productive love” as defined by Fromm:
By stating these concepts are “mutually interdependent”, Fromm means that each of these components depend on the others for the ultimate whole of “productive love”. How does Fromm define the concept of “productive love”? He states this quite clearly by explaining that the above components are a set of
…attitudes which are to be found in the mature person, in the person who develops his own powers productively, who only wants to have that which he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on the inner strength which only genuinely productive activity can give.
from The Art of Loving (Harper Perennial, 2006 edition)
For “care” in the context of love, Fromm explains it as follows:
Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.
For “responsibility” in love, Fromm summarizes it as
…an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs, expressed or unexpressed, of another human being. To be responsible means to be able and ready to “respond”.
For loving “respect”, Fromm believes that it is ethical and explains
I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me. If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use.
For loving “knowledge”, From claims that
To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge.
I did mention this is deep psycho-philosophical work, didn’t I?
However, I do offer a few caveats about the book. First of all the book was originally written in 1956 and there are some family constructs that exist openly today which were quite often hidden in many parts of the world at the the time of the book’s publication (intercultural unions, interracial partnerships, same-sex partnerships, etc.). Fromm also uses “he” and “man” throughout the book and my female ear had to make peace with this as I read the book, knowing that it was common practice at the time the book was written.
There are a some passages that may offend people reading the book if they aren’t keeping the context differences between the time the book was written and the time we live in today in mind. I do believe that disagreeing and having an opinion while reading a book is excellent training for reasoning and critical thinking. So go for it!
My favorite part of the book is the last chapter (The Practice of Love) and if you are really short on time, you might choose to focus your reading on this chapter for a clear distillation of practices that Fromm envisages as part of the work in cultivating one’s competency in loving relationships.