The Art of Loving

Humans need community.  This necessity is built into our genetic code – to be connected is to be alive.  For the vast majority of our evolution, we’ve lived closely together and depended on each other.  Like food, relationships nourish us.  Without them, we suffer.  The fate of the lonely is bleak.

According to Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, the need for love and belongingness is surpassed only by the need to eat, drink and avoid death!  To live well, you must have a community, even if it consists of only two.  The wider your community and the deeper your connection to it, the better life is.  Plain and simple.

So then given their supreme importance, why do relationships fail so often?  Why – instead of being a source of joy – can the people around us become our greatest source of misery?  After extensive reading, I can say with confidence that this is due to our lack of education relative to relationships and communication.

In book after book, I discovered a trove of useful information that, prior to, I had been completely unaware of.  The thoughts, themes, and lessons from these books will form the Relationships section of my blog.

To be honest, I was somewhat hesitant to explore this topic in any depth.  After all, I’m a man, and men aren’t supposed to talk about feelings right?  How can I live up to my cultural requirement and remain stoic should I discuss something as Nancy-like as love? Well, I suppose that’s a risk I am just going to have to take.

My constant companion on this journey will be Erich Fromm and his “The Art of Loving”.  Should you enjoy these posts, I highly recommend this book.

Fromm highlights a pervading misconception to explain a major cause of our interpersonal woes.  This misconception distorts our value system and affects where and to what we give our attention.  If we can recognize and correct this error, we can drastically improve our lives.

Ask yourself, what is a relationship? What does it mean to have a relationship? What does it mean to be in a relationship?

A relationship is not a possession.  It is not something that you can hold in your hand, put in your pocket, and carry it with you for all eternity.  Just because you have found love doesn’t mean you have secured love.

Relationships have a lifecycle – they’re born, they grow, they wither, they die.  Our purpose is to extend their life and improve their quality.  Like cultivating a garden, our relationships require time and purposeful attention.

Love is not perpetual falling nor is it unending bliss, it’s not a promise of future happiness nor is it a guarantee.  Love cannot be acquired, it can only be practiced. Love is a doing, a way of being – it’s a mindset, an opportunity, an opening.

Relationships fail because we neglect to feed them.

The lifeblood of a relationship is time, effort, care, and attention.  If you provide these ingredients, you will continually produce one of life’s greatest joys: connection.  If not, you will suffer.  This concept extends beyond the romantic and is applicable to all relationships whether with your family, your friends, your children, yourself.

Passive distractions like television, social media, video games, the internet, our cell phones and the like, steal away time from the real people in our lives.  Instead of connecting with each other, we connect with meaningless technology and repetitive entertainment.  For the hollow and worthless, we forfeit the opportunity that community, belongingness, and love represent.

To begin the process of improving our lives through love and community, this vital concept must be understood: love is not a possession, it’s an action; it is not a having but a doing.

This doing consists of a number of qualities that we must continually practice and offer to the people we wish to develop a bond with.  In the next post, I will explore these qualities and what that doing looks like in practice.

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