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

One attitude, indispensable for the practice of the art of loving, which thus far has been mentioned only implicitly, should be discussed explicitly since it is basic for the practice of love: activity. I have said before that by activity is not meant “doing something,” but an inner activity, the productive use of one’s powers. Love is an activity; if I love, I am in a constant state of active concern with the loved person, but not only with him or her. For I shall become incapable of relating myself actively to the loved person if I am lazy, if I am not in a constant state of awareness, alertness, activity. Sleep is the only proper situation for inactivity; the state of awakeness is one in which laziness should have no place. 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. To be fully awake is the condition for not being bored, or being boring—and indeed, not to be bored or boring is one of the main conditions for loving. To be active in thought, feeling, with one’s eyes and ears, throughout the day, to avoid inner laziness, be it in the form of being receptive, hoarding, or plain wasting one’s time, is an indispensable condition for the practice of the art of loving. It is an illusion to believe that one can separate life in such a way that one is productive in the sphere of love and unproductive in all other spheres. Productiveness does not permit of such a division of labor. The capacity to love demands a state of intensity, awakeness, enhanced vitality, which can only be the result of a productive and active orientation in many other spheres of life. If one is not productive in other spheres, one is not productive in love either.

The discussion of the art of loving cannot be restricted to the personal realm of acquiring and developing those characteristics and attitudes which have been described in this chapter. It is inseparably connected with the social realm. If to love means to have a loving attitude toward everybody, if love is a character trait, it must necessarily exist in one’s relationship not only with one’s family and friends, but toward those with whom one is in contact through one’s work, business, profession. There is no “division of labor” between love for one’s own and love for strangers. On the contrary, the condition for the existence of the former is the existence of the latter. To take this insight seriously means indeed a rather drastic change in one’s social relations from the customary ones. While a great deal of lip service is paid to the religious ideal of love of one’s neighbor, our relations are actually determined, at their best, by the principle of fairness. Fairness meaning not to use fraud and trickery in the exchange of commodities and services, and in the exchange of feelings. “I give you as much as you give me,” in material goods as well as in love, is the prevalent ethical maxim in capitalist society. It may even be said that the development of fairness ethics is the particular ethical contribution of capitalist society.