Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Book Notes: Art of Loving

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It’s not often that a book leaves me with no other choice than to put it down, sit back, stare at a wall and reflect. Art of Loving was that book. I found myself simply unable to continue. Countless times I would put it down, stand up and pace. This wasn’t happening because I agreed with the book or a new, powerful message. I was caught entirely off guard.

Art of Loving knocked me down. I got up. It knocked me down. Again and again. I also had no choice but to get back up and continue reading it. More profoundly is that it was written in 1956. It raises alarms against devaluing and automating works, multimedia over-consumption, celebrities that have no merit other than their ability to make the news, and most importantly about love is the very real, and happening, risks of mistaking feminism to mean same instead of equal.

Equality today means “sameness,” rather than “oneness.”

The book made a real and lasting impression on me, not only in the ideas conveyed but how much every day, and our habits, matter. It forces consideration of the ever-important question of what is the real and full impact of each action we take, and to be observant of that impact. It suggests how to even measure, but only vaguely.

… in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power—almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.

Everything is an activity we undertake. Love is an activity, not a feeling. Love requires work, effort and dedication. Whether we accept that and love consciously and deliberately makes all the difference. We must practice love like we practice any skill.

Love is an activity; if I love, I am in a constant state of active concern with the loved person…

I tell my children that practicing alone isn’t good enough, one must put their mind into it as much as their body. They must evaluate where they are, where they want to be and think of ideas to get there. The results in their performances validate this approach.

Man can only go forward by developing his reason, by finding a new harmony, a human one, instead of the prehuman harmony which is irretrievably lost.

Whether I am loving my wife, my children or the random person I encounter by chance, a deliberate practice of love is what makes me human. Animals (at least mammals) feel, even some feel and demonstrate affection. Animals cannot describe this feeling, that is a uniquely human trait. Animals cannot share their hopes and dreams, find partners in which to work with and support.

To be concentrated means to live fully in the present, in the here and now, and not to think of the next thing to be done, while I am doing something right now.

Fromm points out that the industrial revolution has expectedly turned us into automatons. We are now cogs in a vast machine. We are replaceable parts and an increasing population do jobs with little or no meaning. Many other modern books have expanded on this idea. Fromm puts this simply: We have moved from a Capitalistic Society to a Consumerist Society. No longer is the collective concern balanced growth; instead we are pushed towards consuming ever more, and working in whatever job that allows us to purchase more and more.

Modern man thinks he loses something—time—when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains—except kill it.

In Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi points out the internal problem with this structure: Without challenge and autonomy, we cannot get into Flow. Without being in flow, we cannot feel the deep, humanistic excitement and vigor that we, as humans, need. Instead, we feel empty and stressed out. We feel incapable of exerting the energy needed to practice loving.

The paradoxical situation with a vast number of people today is that they are half asleep when awake, and half awake when asleep, or when they want to sleep.

When we feel incapable of loving, or worse, to feel incapable of pursuing and achieving love we develop severe anxiety. Fromm states that experiencing separateness from other humans is the source of all anxiety. That is a bold declaration, and after reading the book I can’t say I disagree with him. After all, if we feel stretched too thin in our own lives, how can we possibly embrace someone else?

People whose main orientation is a non-productive one feel giving as an impoverishment.

Love is more complex, deeper than we typically give it credit. It is deeper than the sensual love between adults, and ddeper still than the unconditional as a mother and her child. This is a practiced love, which is extremely challenging. This love is not one that can created without effort. This love is something that requires education. This love is something that can be shared with everybody, without any cost to myself.

Which brings me to the most powerful statement I found in the book.

The opposite of education is manipulation, which is based on the absence of faith in the growth of potentialities…

I’ve always been very sensitive to the idea of manipulation, but never could describe what was the opposite of manipulation. Knowing that education is that opposite shows that while I wasn’t directly, or intentionally, being manipulative, in many moments I was definitely guilty.

At the end of this reading, I’m left with the following ideas to work towards:

  1. Focus on education, recognize the potential in every person.
  2. How I feel about strangers is a reflection of how I feel about my family and “loved ones”.
  3. Be mindful in every activity, especially those centered around feelings.
  4. Pursue the true spirit of Capitalism, to make and sell products I believe in that add value. This is how I can not only mature psychologically, but fight negative Consumerism.