Love = Respect, Care, Responsibility, Knowledge

Following is one of my favorite excerpts transcribed from Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving (1956).  Beginning on page 24:

It is hardly necessary to stress the fact that the ability to love as an act of giving depends on the character development of the person.  It presupposes the attainment of a predominantly productive orientation; in this orientation the person has overcome dependency, narcissistic omnipotence, the wish to exploit others, or to hoard, and has acquired faith in his own human powers, courage to rely on his powers in the attainment of his goals. To the degree that these qualities are lacking, he is afraid of giving himself—hence of loving.

Beyond the element of giving, the active character of love becomes evident in the fact that it always implies certain basic elements, common to all forms of love.  These are care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

That love implies care is most evident in a mother’s love for her child.  No assurance of her love would strike us as sincere if we saw her lacking in care for the infant, if she neglected to feed it, to bathe it, to give it physical comfort; and we are impressed by her love if we see her caring for the child.  It is not different even with the love for animals or flowers.  If a woman told us that she loved flowers, and we saw that she forgot to water them, we would not believe in her “love” for flowers.  Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.  Where this active concern is lacking, there is no love. This element of love has been beautifully described in the book of Jonah.  God has told Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn its inhabitants that they will be punished unless they mend their evil ways.  Jonah runs away from his mission because he is afraid that the people of Nineveh will repent and that God will forgive them.  He is a man with a strong sense of order and law, but without love.  However, in his attempt to escape, he finds himself in the belly of a whale, symbolizing the state of isolation and imprisonment which his lack of love and solidarity has brought upon him. God saves him, and Jonah goes to Nineveh.  He preaches to the inhabitants as God has told him, and the very thing he was afraid of happens.  The men of Nineveh repent their sins, mend their ways, and God forgives them and decides not to destroy the city.  Jonah is intensely angry and disappointed; he wanted “justice” to be done, not mercy.  At last he finds some comfort in the shade of a tree which God has made to grow for him to protect him from the sun.  But when God makes the tree wilt, Jonah is depressed and angrily complains to God.  God answers: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd for the which thou hast not labored neither madest grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night.  And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand people that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”  God’s answer to Jonah is to be understood symbolically.  God explains to Jonah that the essence of love is to “labor” for something and “to make something grow,” that love and labors are inseparable.  One loves that for which one labors, and one labors for that which one loves.

Care and concern imply another aspect of love; that of responsibility.  Today responsibility is often meant to denote duty, something imposed upon one from the outside.  But responsibility, in its true sense, is 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.”  Jonah did not feel responsible to the inhabitants of Nineveh.  He, like Cain, could ask: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The loving person responds.  The life of his brother is not his brother’s business alone, but his own.  He feels responsible for his fellow men, as he feels responsible for himself.  This responsibility, in the case of the mother and her infant, refers mainly to the care for physical needs.  In the love between adults it refers mainly to the psychic needs of the other person.

Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for a third component of love, respect.  Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere = to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality.  Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is.  Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation.  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.  It is clear that respect is possible only if I have achieved independence; if I can stand and walk without needing crutches, without having to dominate and exploit anyone else.  Respect exists only on the basis of freedom: “l’amour est l’enfant de la liberté” as an old French song says; love is the child of freedom, never that of domination.

To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge.  Knowledge would be empty if it were not motivated by concern.  There are many layers of knowledge; the knowledge which is an aspect of love is one which does not stay at the periphery, but penetrates to the core.  It is possible only when I can transcend the concern for myself and see the other person in his own terms.  I may know, for instance, that a person is angry, even if he does not show it overtly; but I may know him more deeply than that; then I know that he is anxious, and worried; that he feels lonely, that he feels guilty.  Then I know that his anger is only the manifestation of something deeper, and I see him as anxious and embarrassed, that is, as the suffering person, rather than as the angry one.

Knowledge has one more, and a more fundamental, relation to the problem of love.  The basic need to fuse with another person so as to transcend the prison of one’s separateness is closely related to another specifically human desire, that to know the “secret of man.”  While life in its merely biological aspects is a miracle and a secret, man in his human aspects is an unfathomable secret to himself—and to his fellow man.  We know ourselves, and yet even with all the efforts we may make, we do not know ourselves.  We know our fellow man, and yet we do not know him, because we are not a thing, and our fellow man is not a thing.  The further we reach into the depth of our being, or someone else’s being, the more the goal of knowledge eludes us.  Yet we cannot help desiring to penetrate into the secret of man’s soul, into the innermost nucleus which is “he.”

There is one way, a desperate one, to know the secret: it is that of complete power over another person; the power which makes him do what we want, feel what we want, think what we want; which transforms him into a thing, our thing, our possession.  The ultimate degree of this attempt to know lies in the extremes of sadism, the desire and ability to make a human being suffer; to torture him, to force him to betray man’s secret in his suffering.  In this craving for penetrating man’s secret, his and hence our own, lies an essential motivation for the depth and intensity of cruelty and destructiveness.  In a very succinct way this idea has been expressed by Isaac Babel.  He quotes a fellow officer in the Russian civil war, who has just stamped his former master to death, as saying: “With shooting—I’ll put it this way—with shooting you only get rid of a chap. . . . With shooting you’ll never get at the soul, to where it is in a fellow and how it shows itself.  But I don’t spare myself, and I’ve more than once trampled an enemy for over an hour.  You see, I want to get to know what life really is, what life’s like down our way.”

In children we often see this path to knowledge quite overtly.  The child takes something apart, breaks it up in order to know it; or it takes an animal apart; cruelly tears off the wings of a butterfly in order to know it, to force its secret.  The cruelty itself is motivated by something deeper: the wish to know the secret of things and of life.

The other path to knowing “the secret” is love.  Love is active penetration of the other person, in which my desire to know know is stilled by union.  In the act of fusion I know you, I know myself, I know everybody—and I “know” nothing.  I know in the only way knowledge of that which is alive is possible for man—by experience of union—not by any knowledge our thought can give.  Sadism is motivated by the wish to know the secret, yet I remain as ignorant as I was before.  I have torn the other being apart limb from limb, yet all I have done is to destroy him.  Love is the only way of knowledge, which in the act of union answers my quest.  In the other person, I find myself, I discover myself, I discover us both, I discover man.

The longing to know ourselves and to know our fellow man has been expressed in the Delphic motto “Know thyself.”  It is the mainspring of all psychology.  But inasmuch as the desire is to know all of man, his innermost secret, the desire can never be fulfilled in knowledge of the ordinary kind, in knowledge only by thought.  Even if we knew a thousand times more of ourselves, we would never reach bottom.  We would still remain an enigma to ourselves, as our fellow man would remain an enigma to us.  The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love: this act transcends thought, it transcends words.  It is the daring plunge into the experience of union.  However, knowledge in thought, that is psychological knowledge, is a necessary condition for full knowledge in the act of love.  I have to know the other person and myself objectively, in order to be able to see his reality, or rather, to overcome the illusions, the irrationally distorted picture I have of him.  Only if I know a human being objectively can I know him in his ultimate essence, in the act of love.

The problem of knowing man is parallel to the religious problem of knowing God.  In conventional Western theology the attempt is made to know God by thought, to make statements about God.  It is assumed that I can know God in my thought.  In mysticism, which is the consequent outcome of monotheism (as I shall try to show later on), the attempt is given up to know God by thought, and it is replaced by the experience of union with God in which there is no more room—and no need—for knowledge about God.

The experience of union, with man, or religiously speaking, with God, is by no means irrational.  On the contrary, it is as Albert Schweitzer has pointed out, the consequence of rationalism, its most daring and radical consequence.  It is based on our knowledge of the fundamental, and not accidental, limitations of our knowledge.  It is the knowledge that we shall never “grasp” the secret of man and of the universe, but that we can know, nevertheless, in the act of love.  Psychology as a science has its limitations, and, as the logical consequence of theology is mysticism, so the ultimate consequence of psychology is love.

Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are mutually interdependent.  They are a syndrome of attitudes which are to be found in the mature person; that is, 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 genuine productivity can give.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

Stopping on page 30.

Feels important for me to return to this passage and re-read it from time to time.

Touching on the subject of evil

For days I’ve wanted to write on here but haven’t known where to pick up and begin. So much has been on my mind in recent times. Three days ago a young man killed his mother before walking into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and shot and killed 26 people, 20 of whom were young children, before allegedly turning his gun on himself. I’m told there was a shooting at a mall up in Oregon as well. A friend mentioned a shooting in Las Vegas also.

Tonight I came across the unbelievable story of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a woman about my age who was kidnapped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido back in 1991 when she was only 11 years old, holding her captive in their backyard for 18 years. During that time she birthed and raised two daughters fathered by Phillip Garrido, a convicted sexual predator on parole who repeatedly managed to get away with this crime despite 60 visits to his residency over those years by parole officers.

What do all of these crimes, and so many others, share in common? They all point toward that which we call “evil.” Leaving aside for the time being any religious claims on the subject, how might we understand evil in the hearts of people and within our culture? How might we grapple with this concept in the 21st century?

That’s been a question on my mind for a long time now. I’ve read a good deal on the topic, and one author whose words and ideas have had a great influence on my thinking is the late psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. He is reported to have been an early member of the “Frankfurt School,” a loosely associated group of dissident neo-Marxist theorists involved in a unique interdisciplinary approach to social theory. I’ve read all of his books that I could get my hands on, including The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Man For Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics, Escape From Freedom, The Sane Society, Psychoanalysis and Religion, The Heart of Man: Its Genius For Good and Evil, The Art of Loving, and The Art of Being. Going forward I intend to transcribe excerpts from his books to illuminate his teachings for others who may be interested.

“The internet’s a vast place.”

The internet’s a vast place. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut watching and reading what we find agreeable, the tendency being to attract toward people who confirm our own beliefs. This is known to some as the echo chamber effect and has potential to be vacuous. My aim instead has been and continues to be to explore a wide array of topics and ideas, not limiting myself to what I personally wish to believe and not avoiding possible evidence simply because it makes me uncomfortable.

It is my belief that if we consistently fail to make the effort to treat the internet and other technologies responsibly, as in safeguarding net neutrality and by individually making the decision to utilize this electronic medium to further our own growth and critical understandings rather than merely entertaining ourselves, it will be our own selves who lose out in the end. Why let short-sighted indulgences wreck a valuable tool and erode its benefit for oneself and everyone else going forward? In other words, when we type as if with impunity, how are we adding value to our virtual communication realm?

The potential contained within the internet is connected with the choices of each individual searcher making use of this powerful tool. What we seek and what we choose to put out in the world via the internet ultimately determines its usefulness and value. If we allow it to devolve into little more than a haven for us to misbehave in, we have diminished its worth. If it is turned into little more than a commercialized smorgasbord and a platform for celebrated drama queens and kings not unlike the televised medium that came before it, we have only ourselves to blame, and it will be we who suffer as a consequence.

So, with that, my goal here on this blog is to explore ideas and information that have come my way through books, films, the arts, and the internet, and to share my findings and considerations with others in case anything may be of value to anyone else. But these are my thoughts in my small corner of the universe, most of which aren’t intended to be promoted as facts but rather are offered as tidbits of food for thought as I grapple with the complexities of modern living. And for the record, not claiming to be an authority on any subject or to be sharpest knife in the drawer. Haha

The subjects I would like to broach span across the spectrum and are too numerous to lay out here. The aim is to allow information and ideas to flow and converge without setting up divisions created by arbitrary categorization of phenomena, as unfortunately has become all-too-common as our educational institutions divide life exploration into various separate disciplines, treating them as if distinctly partitioned. That is an illusion, a social construct that is coming to outlive its usefulness at a time when dots call out to be connected. So consider this one person’s interdisciplinary approach to making sense out of life and living, past and present, with an eye toward what may await us going forward.

Starting up this new venue…

The best way to start is to simply get to it. So, as is my custom, I’ll begin this blog off with a song, one I’m sure many are familiar with.

“Bullet With Butterfly Wings” by Smashing Pumpkins:

Lyric excerpt:

The world is a vampire, sent to drain
Secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames
And what do I get, for my pain
Betrayed desires, and a piece of the game

Even though I know, I suppose I’ll show
All my cool and cold, like old job

Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage
Someone will say, “What is lost can never be saved”
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage

Now I’m naked, nothing but an animal
But can you fake it, for just one more show
And what do you want, I want to change
And what have you got when you feel the same

 

Because that song rocks. Plus it made an impression on me as a young teen when it came out and it still does. I, for one, continue to feel like an enraged rat in a cage, bewildered and exasperated by modern life and by most people populating the planet alongside me. As this blogging venture fleshes out perhaps the reasons why will become apparent. Cynical as that might come across right now…