the art of loving

by Erich Fromm

“He who knows nothing, loves nothing. He who can do nothing, understands nothing. He who understand nothing, is worthless. But he who understand also loves, notices, sees… The more knowledge is inherent in a thing, the greater the love… Anyone who imagines that all fruits ripen at the same time as the strawberries knows nothing about the grapes.” Paracelsus

Satisfaction in individual love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one’s neighbor, without true humility, courage, faith and discipline.

Yes! But it requires knowledge and effort.
Hardly anyone thinks that there is anything that needs to be learned about love:

  1. Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of ones capacity to love. what most people in our culture mean by being lovable is essentially a mixture of being popular and having sex appeal.
  2. People think that love is simple, but that to find the right object to love – or to be loved by – is difficult. Our whole culture us based on the appetite for buying, on the idea of a mutually favorable exchange.
  3. The confusion between the initial experience of falling in love and the permanent state of being in love. It is the exciting experience in life. There is hardly any activity which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly as love.

There is only one way to overcome this problem: to study the meaning of LOVE.
A. Become aware that love is an art.
B. Master the theory, master the practice. Until they are blended in one: the intuition.
C. The mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern, there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. In spite of deep-seated craving for love, almost everything is more important, success, status, power, money – almost all our energy is focused on how to achieve this aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.


the answer to the problem of human existence.

What is essential in the existence of man is the fact to come from the animal kingdom. We can not return to where we came from: nature – we can only go forward: developing his reason, finding new harmony, a human one. 

When a man is born, he is thrown out of a situation which was definite, clear, like the instincts, into a situation that is indefinite, uncertain & open. There is certainty about the past – and about the future only as far as death.

We are gifted: we are life beings aware of ourselves. We are aware of everyone, to the nature and to our past and the possibilities for the future. But we are also aware if our aloneness and separateness: without willing we are born and we will die. This awareness can make life an unbearable prison, the deepest need to overcome.

There is no good or evil unless there is freedom to disobey.

After man and woman have become aware of themselves and of each other, they are aware of their separateness, their differences. But with this recognizing they remain strangers, they haven’t learned how to love.

The awareness of human separation, without reunion by love – is the source of shame. It is at the same time the source of guilt and anxiety.

All humans (of all ages and cultures) are seeking for the solution to how to overcome separateness, how to achieve union, how to be or go beyond one’s own individual life & find at-onement (to repair the wrong).

There is only one way to achieve this union: orgiastic (peak of emotional intensity) states. They are intense; the occur in total personality (body&mind); they are transitory (not permanent) and periodical.

The opposite is happening; conformity. Most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They think they live according to their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualist, their opinions are the result of their own thinking – and it just happens to be the same as the rest. There will be small differences to ‘mark’ their individuality.

Equality: we are all children of the universe, we all share the same human-divine substance, we are all one. But the differences must be respected, while we are all one, it is also true that each one of us is a unique entity/being. We are a cosmos by ourselves.

Equality today means sameness not oneness. In addition to conformity, next to the union of the individuals in contemporary life: the role of work routine and pleasure routine. Man became a ‘nine to fiver’, from birth to death, from Monday to Monday, from morning to evening – all activities are routinized and prefabricated. It is easy to forget you are a human, a unique individual, one who is given only this ONE chance of living, with hopes and disappointments, with sorrow and fear, with the longing of love and the dread of the nothing and of separateness.

Creative activity is another way to achieve union. In all kinds of creative work the worker and his object become one, man unites himself with the world in the process of creation.

The three ways are only partial answers to the problem of existence. Unity in productive work is not inter personal, unity achieved in orgiastic fusion is not permanent and the unity of confomity is psuedo-unity. The full answer lies in the achievement of interpersonal union, fusion with another person: LOVE.

Without love humanity could not exist for one day.
Symbiotic union: union of two who need each other.
Passive form: doesn’t want to be alone: the person renounces integrity, makes himself the instrument of someone/something.
Active form: domination. Want to escape his aloneness by making someone his.

Love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. In love, the paradox occurs that two beings become one, yet stay two. Love is an activity. An activity for the soul, which is possible only under the conditions of inner freedom and independence.

The exercise of passive effect man is driven, the object of motivations of which himself is not aware. Envy, jealously, ambition: passions.

The exercise of active effect man is free, he is master of his affect. Love is an action, the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom & never as a result of compulsion.

Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is standing in not falling for.

Love is primarily giving, not receiving. Giving is the highest expression of potency. With giving I experience strength, power, wealth. This experience of vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a depriviation (the damaging lack of material benefits considered to be basic necessities in a society), but because the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness. He who gives himself, gives his joy, his interest, his knowledge, his humor and his sadness. He enriches the other, he enhances the other’s sense of aliveness by enhancing his own sense of aliveness. He doesn’t give in order to receive; giving itself is joy. But in truly giving, he can not help receiving what is given back.

Love implies care, respect, responsibility and knowledge.
Care: love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.
Responsibility: ready and able to respond.
Respect: the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality.
Knowledge: penetrates to the core, deep knowledge.

Life is a miracle and a secret. Man is a secret to himself and to fellow man. We know ourselves and yet we do not know ourselves. We know our fellow man, yet we don’t know. Cause he and we are not a thing. The deeper we go into our being or someone else’s being, the more the goal of knowledge eludes us.

Desperate way to know the secret: complete power over another person; our thing; our possession.

Healthy way is LOVE. Active penetration of the other person. I know myself, I know you and I know nothing.

Love is the only way of knowledge, which in the act of union answers my quest. In the act of loving, of giving myself, in the act of penetrating the other person, I find myself, I discover myself, I discover us both. I discover man.

It doesn’t matter how much we can know about ourselves, we remain enigma to ourselves, as our fellow man will remain an enigma to us. We can never reach the bottom. The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love: it transcends thoughts, it transcends words.

I have to know the other person and myself objectively in order to see his reality, or rather to overcome the illusions, the distorted picture I have of him. Only if I know a human being objectively, I can know him in his ultimate essence, in the act of love.


After the infant is born, he is hardly the same as before. Only when he grows and develops, he learns to perceive many other things as being different, as having an existence of their own. He learns to give names; how to handle them; how to handle people. All these experiences become crystallized and integrated in the experience: I am loved: I am loved for what I am or I am loved because I am.

Mother’s love is unconditional, passive love. I don’t have to do nothing to be loved. Mom’s love is a bliss! It doesn’t need t be deserved of acquired

Age 8-10: the problem of being loved for what one is. He doesn’t yet love; he responds to being loved. Now a feeling appears: producing love by one’s own activity. Love is not only being loved, but also creating love. It takes many years to the maturing love.

Adolescent: has overcome his egocentricity. The other person is not only to serve his needs. The needs of the other are as important (if not more important) as his own.

To give is more satisfying, more joyous than to receive. By loving you leave the person of the aloneness and feels new union of sharing ONEness. He feels the potency of producing love by loving.

Infantile love: “I love because I am loved.”
Mature love: “I am loved because I love you.”
Immature love; “I love you because I need you.”
Mature love: “I need you because I love you.”

Unconditional love corresponds to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every human being; on the other hand to be loved because of one’s merit, because one deserves it, always leaves doubt; maybe I did not please the person whom I want to love me, maybe this, or that – there is always a fear that love could disappear. ‘Deserved’ love easily leaves a bitter feeling that one is not loved for oneself, but because he pleases, not loved but used.

Mother is the home we come from, she is nature, soil, the ocean, the natural home. Father represents the world of thought, man made things, law & order, discipline, travel & adventure. Father teaches the child. Shows him the road into the world.

Fatherly love is conditional: ‘I love you because you fulfill my expectations, because you do your duty, because you are like me. Negative: it has to be deserved, it can be lost. Positive: ‘I can work for it.’

Ideally: mother’s love doesn’t prevent the child from growing up, doesn’t make the child helpless. Mother should have faith, her wish has to be that the child becomes independent. Father’s love should be guided by principles and expectations. It should be patient & tolerant not threatening & authoritarian.

Mature person: has a motherly & fatherly conscience. A mature person is building a motherly conscience on his own capacity for love and a fatherly conscience on his reason and judgement.

Motherly conscience: ‘there is no misdeed, no crime which should deprive my love for you or my wish for your life & happiness.’

Fatherly conscience: ‘you did wrong, you cannot avoid accepting certain consequences of your wrongdoing, and most of all you must change your ways if I am to like you.’


Love is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not towards one ‘object’ to love. If a person loves only one other person and doesn’t love others, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment or an enlarged egotism. If I truly love one person I love all persons. I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else: ‘I love you’, I must be able to say: ‘I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself’. 

a) Brotherly love

Most fundamental kind of love. The sense of responsibility, care, respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life. Brotherly love is love for all human beings. There is union with all men, of human solidarity of human at-onement, It’s based on the experience that we are all one. If I perceive in another person mainly the surface, I perceive manly differences, that which separates us. If I penetrate to the core, I perceive our identity, the fact of our brotherhood. This relatedness from center to center – instead of that from the edge- is central relatedness. Brotherly love is love between equals: but indeed we are not equal. We are human, we are all in need for help. Today you, tomorrow I. It doesn’t mean one is helpless and one is powerful. Helplessness is a transitory condition; the ability to stand & walk on one’s own feet is the permanent and common one.

Only in the love that doesn’t serve a purpose, love begins to unfold.

By having compassion for the helpless one, man begins to develop love for his brother; and in his love for himself, he also loves the one who is in need of help, the frail, insecure human being. Compassion implies the element of knowledge and of identification. 

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

b) Motherly love

is an unconditional affirmation of the child’s life & his needs. This affirmations has two aspects. One is the care and responsibility: absolutely necessary for the preservation of the child’s life and his growth. The other is to give the child love for living. To give him the feeling that it is good to be alive! It’s good to be on this Earth. 

Milk symbolizes the care and affirmation. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of life, the love for it and the happiness to be alive. As a mother you should give both to your child.

c) Erotic love

“If I love my brother, I love all my brothers; if I love my child, I love all my children; no beyond that: I love all children.”

Erotic love is the craving for complete fusion, for union with one other person. It is by its very nature exclusive and not universal; it is also perhaps the most deceptive (giving a misleading impression) form of love there is.

After the stranger has become an intimately known person there are no more barriers to be overcome, there is no more sudden closeness to be achieved. The ‘loved’ person becomes as well known as oneself. Or, little known. If there was more depth in the experience of the other person, if one could experience the infiniteness of his personality, the other person would never be familiar – and the miracle of overcoming the barriers might occur every day anew.

It seems that sexual desires can easily blend with and be stimulated by any strong emotion of which love is only one. Because sexual desire is in the minds of most people coupled with the idea of love, they are easily misled to conclude that they love each other when they want each other physically. 

Erotic love is exclusive, but it loves in the other person all of mankind, all that is alive. It is exclusive only in the sense that I can fuse myself fully and intensely with one person only.

Erotic love has one premise. That I love from the essence of my being – and experience the other person in the essence of his being. All human beings are identical. We are all part of one; we are one. That’s why it doesn’t matter whom we love. Love should be essentially an act of will, of decision to commit my life completely to that of another person.

To love someone is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgement, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling may come and go. How can you judge that it will stay forever, when your act does not involve judgement and decision?


While it is virtuous to love others, it is sinful to love oneself. ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself!’, implies the respect for one’s own integrity and uniqueness, love for and understanding of one’s own self, cannot be separated from respect and love and understanding for another individual. The love for my own self is inseparably connected with the love for any other being.

Genuine love is an expression of productiveness and implies care, respect, responsibility and knowledge.

The affirmation of one’s life, happiness, growth and freedom is rooted in one’s capacity to love. It is true that selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either.

“If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself. As long as you love another person less than you love yourself, you will not really succeed in loving yourself. If you love all alike, including yourself, you will love them as one person and that person is both divine & man. Thus he is a great and righteous person, who, loving himself, loves all others equally.” Eckhart Tolle

The basis for our need to love lies in the experience of separateness and the resulting need to overcome the anxiety of separateness by experiencing union.


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 (basic, undeveloped) way, at least, as a child, an adolescent or an adult.

The practice of any ART has general requirements:

  1. Discipline: I shall never be good at anything if I don’t do it in a disciplined way. Modern man has little self-discipline outside of the sphere of work. Without such discipline life becomes chaotic and lack in concentration.
  2. Concentration: concentration is rare in our culture, we do many things at once. This lack of concentration is shown in our difficulty in being alone with ourselves.
  3. Patience: if you want quick results, you’ll never learn an art. The society designs quickness: human values have become determined by economic values. Modern man thinks he looses something: time, yet he doesn’t know what to do with it, but kill it.

Supreme concern: if the art is not something of supreme importance, you will never learn it.

One does not begin to learn an art directly. but indirectly. We first have to learn a lot of other things. If one wants to become a master in any art, your whole life must be devoted to it. To become a master in the art of loving, you must be a master in discipline, concentration and patience.

Whilst we teach knowledge, we are losing that teaching which is the most important one for human development: the teaching which van only be given by the simple presence of a mature, loving person. The main condition for the achievements of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism, and this depends on our capacity to grow. The art of loving is the practice of faith.

To love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith. Love is an activity. To be active in thought, feeling, with one’s eyes and ears, throughout the day. If love means to have a loving attitude towards everybody, if love is a character trait, it must necessarily exist in one’s relationship not only with one’s family and friends, but towards those with whom one is in contact through the day. There is no division of labor between love for one’s own and love for strangers.

Society must be organised in such a way that man is social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.

Love is not preaching, it means to speak of the ultimate and real need in every human being.

To have faith in the possibility of love as a social and not only exceptional-individual phenomenon, is a rational faith based on the insight into the very nature of man.

%d bloggers like this: