posted by Michael Thomas July 22, 2013
Love, either its expression or its attempted nullification, plays a daily role in each and every one of our lives. It impacts our interactions with both our friends and strangers, as well as influencing our decisions about what we share, do, and say. It effects our perspective towards new information, and our tolerance for differences.
As Erich Fromm said in his international bestseller “The Art of Loving,” love is “an activity, not a passive affect; it is a “standing in,” and not a “falling for.”” Love is inherently bound with responsibility, respect, appreciation, giving, and sharing. Love is an art; meaning one improves through concentration, practice, and an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses.
Part of respecting and appreciating everything from people to nature is opening yourself to giving it your full attention, your concentration. I find it useful to minimize my conscious thoughts, and allow myself to fully submerge in the moment, the person’s words, and truly internalize what they are telling me; truly connect with them as a fellow human. This helps me then answer as an honest human being.
In a world which moves so fast and patience is such a rarity that it could be considered maladaptive, it is a valuable gesture to give someone your full attention. When you give or share, you are sharing your aliveness; letting your experience in the world overlap into someone elses’.
This is why I personally like collecting little natural artifacts, like aesthetic stones, which I enjoy giving to my friends and family: the stone is connected to a period of history when it formed, to my experience of finding it, to it being brought to my friend, and then represents itself a connection between me and this person. This generates causalities which can only be explained through you; creating a healthy and positive connection between you and your world.
Love is this connectedness, this networking of different pieces to promote growth, to increase the positive consequences we and others have on the world.
One way to inspire growth is to help others. When we help others, we not only inspire them, but even everyone else who sees this. Love is one of the ultimate joys of life, one of the deepest and most fulfilling connections to the world.
Thus it is ironic that many try to deny their love; to deny their connection to the world around them and their shared responsibility for the future. They idealize the social ghost: unattached and maximizing their personal gain, because these kinds of people are the most financially successful in our society. Unfortunately, these people are also the most emotionally unhealthy; having to constantly rationalize exploiting their fellow man. To maintain a positive self-image, they have to thus reduce the dissonance by emphasizing their difference from the world around them, from those they are exploiting; they deny their connection to life outside of themselves and in many ways their own lives.
To appreciate life is to involve yourself in love, and appreciating another and showing them the respect a human, or even any life itself, deserves. Love is not a form of ownership or possessiveness, it is, on the contrary, a fostering of growth.
Growth is fostered by an environment which offers enough security to support recovery from loss, and enough room to further expand the borders; a development of potential.
Love is a true appreciation for the complexity of a subject, be it a human, plant, or piece of nature. Part of appreciation is not reducing the complexity of that which you love, but reveling in the different facets of it. This means not defining things in terms of black-and-white or idealizations, but instead enjoying the multi-faceted reality; or at least giving yourself a chance to find out if you really enjoy it, and not just your individual abstraction of it.
One gives and nurtures not to get something back, but to encourage growth. Getting something back is an added bonus to the joy of connecting yourself, in the real world, to other life and especially other self-conscious life.
Love is a productive act, a standing in instead of a falling in, and a true appreciation of the world can never condone laziness or boredom. Part of truly feeling your existence is entangling your actions, your future, with those of others. Too often people feel unconnected to the world, working to create things they cannot identify with, in an impersonal and non-rewarding way, and rationalize this internally by beginning to believe they really are unconnected.
Understanding your emotions, or loving, is not and definitely does not have to be an irrational act. The irrationality and imbalance with which most people approach relationships, and their emotions, contributes to this impression, but this is largely because most people are busy searching for a love they do not understand and is not emotionally healthy. These people end up expressing childhood fantasies through their relationships, but never begin to really fully connect themselves to other humans; to fulfill a dynamic spectrum of needs instead of an ingrained relationship pattern.
The other extreme is retreating into emotional isolation; denying their connection to the outside world and viewing people only as objects, and their connections as being based purely on barter or exploitation. This is an emotionally immature view of relationships and the world, similar to viewing God as an individual (seen by the people of ancient India as the highest form of ignorance) who makes specific decisions about everything that happens in the world based on how happy or upset he is with us.
In conclusion, loving something isn’t about coveting or ownership: it is about appreciation and respect. The best way we can show this love is by trying to nurture growth, not inhibit it, by trying to share our experiences instead of hiding or misrepresenting them for the belief that this will bring some benefit to their personal interest, by empathizing with others instead of judging them.
Sometimes this can be difficult when we see the current situation as inhibiting or even damaging to the growth of the subject of our love, but we must be careful in how we go about dealing with such situations to avoid causing equally negative consequences. This is why mature love needs both knowledge and rationality.
The beauty of such statements is in how many different areas they apply; everything from interpersonal relationships to ecology. This works because love is multi-dimensional, and all different facets of real love share the same core.
– Fromm, Erich. 1956. The Art of Loving. Harper & Row, Inc.