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The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm Read Online (FREE)

The difficulty of the problem is enhanced by the fact that most people today, hence many readers of this book, expect to be given prescriptions of “how to do it yourself,” and that means in our case to be taught how to love. I am afraid that anyone who approaches this last chapter in this spirit will be gravely disappointed. To love is a personal experience which everyone can only have by and for himself; in fact, there is hardly anybody who has not had this experience in a rudimentary way, at least, as a child, an adolescent, an adult. What the discussion of the practice of love can do is to discuss the premises of the art of loving, the approaches to it as it were, and the practice of these premises and approaches. The steps toward the goal can be practiced only by oneself, and discussion ends before the decisive step is taken. Yet, I believe that the discussion of the approaches may be helpful for the mastery of the art—for those at least who have freed themselves from expecting “prescriptions.”

The practice of any art has certain general requirements, quite regardless of whether we deal with the art of carpentry, medicine, or the art of love. First of all, the practice of an art requires discipline. I shall never be good at anything if I do not do it in a disciplined way; anything I do only if “I am in the mood” may be a nice or amusing hobby, but I shall never become a master in that art. But the problem is not only that of discipline in the practice of the particular art (say practicing every day a certain amount of hours) but it is that of discipline in one’s whole life. One might think that nothing is easier to learn for modern man than discipline. Does he not spend eight hours a day in a most disciplined way at a job which is strictly routinized? The fact, however, is that modern man has exceedingly little self-discipline outside of the sphere of work. When he does not work, he wants to be lazy, to slouch or, to use a nicer word, to “relax.” This very wish for laziness is largely a reaction against the routinization of life. Just because man is forced for eight hours a day to spend his energy for purposes not his own, in ways not his own, but prescribed for him by the rhythm of the work, he rebels and his rebelliousness takes the form of an infantile self-indulgence. In addition, in the battle against authoritarianism he has become distrustful of all discipline, of that enforced by irrational authority, as well as of rational discipline imposed by himself. Without such discipline, however, life becomes shattered, chaotic, and lacks in concentration.

That concentration is a necessary condition for the mastery of an art is hardly necessary to prove. Anyone who ever tried to learn an art knows this. Yet, even more than self-discipline, concentration is rare in our culture. On the contrary, our culture leads to an unconcentrated and diffused mode of life, hardly paralleled anywhere else. You do many things at once; you read, listen to the radio, talk, smoke, eat, drink. You are the consumer with the open mouth, eager and ready to swallow everything—pictures, liquor, knowledge. This lack of concentration is clearly shown in our difficulty in being alone with ourselves. To sit still, without talking, smoking, reading, drinking, is impossible for most people. They become nervous and fidgety, and must do something with their mouth or their hands. (Smoking is one of the symptoms of this lack of concentration; it occupies hand, mouth, eye and nose.)