There are no well-defined, easy steps to either God or love. There is not a “how-to manual” for learning to truly love. Love is a natural ability, an instinct of the human psyche. Yet, love may be more or less mature, and—according to Erich Fromm—there are certain preconditions for truly being able to love. In his book, The Art of Loving, Fromm calls these preconditions “approaches” to love, and they may indeed be cultivated or practiced.
There are general approaches necessary for the mastery of any art, and there are specific approaches necessary for the mastery of the art of loving. Fromm’s general approaches include discipline, concentration, and patience. So, to learn to play the violin, for example, one must have the discipline to practice regularly, to concentrate during practice, and to be patient when practice falls short of perfection.
So, also, with love. You must, for example, exercise discipline to interact daily and meaningfully with your spouse. You must concentrate on your partner’s words and emotions, being patient even if there is some moment of misunderstanding or irritation during the encounter. Of course, discipline, concentration, and patience will serve you well even if you’re relating to friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
Then there are the specific approaches to loving. Paramount is overcoming narcissism. Here, we’re not talking about a mature self-love but rather the tendency to view others wholly or partly in terms of one’s own ego. The complete narcissist experiences the world subjectively, rather than objectively.
If an infant is wet, hungry, or sleepy and cries as a result, the narcissistic adult experiences the child’s reaction purely as a personal inconvenience. The child is perhaps disturbing Dad’s NFL football game or Mom’s social media post. A loving, non-narcissistic parent suppresses any irritation and changes the diaper or warms the bottle, attending to the infant’s objective needs. The narcissist may well ignore the child or even lash out angrily at the interruption.
According to Fromm, the relative absence of narcissism depends, not only on objectivity, but also on humility and reason. I must be humble enough to see myself as one person among many. I must use my reason to understand egoistic distortions and see the world objectively.
Moreover, says Fromm, to truly love requires faith. Fromm explains, “Having faith in another person means to be certain of the reliability and unchangeability of his fundamental attitudes, of the core of his personality, of his love.” (If he were writing today, Fromm would have used their instead of his.)
And what of God? Isn’t faith necessary to love God? Of course! And how may we come by that faith? Through centering down into the Stillness where God dwells in Light!
But what of those Friends who do not see God revealed by the Inner Light? Well, it requires faith to believe in the efficacy of Reason. Reason active in the depths of one’s being may be the same as faith. Admittedly, there is a mystery here—one which, in all humility, I do not pretend to understand.
~ Richard Russell
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