Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Art of Loving, part 2

I had no idea what Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving" was going to be like; in a blog entry a couple of days ago, I made a joke of how Plath had it on her night-stand when she killed herself, and later Assia Wevill took the book over, writing her own name in it... and so how "helpful" the book must have been, relationship-wise!

Since it was published in 1956, I'd kind of thought it was just going to be a self-help book for lonely women, "how to keep a man" and all that. But it actually dealt/deals with all sorts of love: between parent and child, between adult lovers, a feeling for all of humanity, love of god, self-love, etc.

Some passages were helpful to me at this extremely barren time in my life:

"...one must learn to be concentrated in everything one does, in listening to music, in reading a book, in talking to a person, in seeing a view....If one is concentrated, it matters little what one is doing; the important, as well as the unimportant things assume a new dimension of reality, because they have one's full attention. To learn concentration requires avoiding, as far as possible, trivial conversation, that is, conversation which is not genuine. If two people talk about the growth of a tree they both know, or about the taste of the bread they have just eaten together, or about a common experience in their job, such conversation can be relevant, provided they experience what they are talking about, and do not deal with it in an abstractified way; on the other hand, a conversation can deal with matters of politics or religion and yet be trivial; this happens when the two people talk in cliches, when their hearts are not in what they are saying.... just as it is important to avoid trivial conversation, it is important to avoid bad company. By bad company I do not refer only to people who are vicious and destructive; one should avoid their company because their orbit is poisonous and depressing. I mean also the company of zombies, of people whose soul is dead, although their body is alive; of people whose thoughts and conversation are trivial; who chatter instead of talk, and who assert cliche opinions instead of thinking."

This made me think of several things: One, one good quality I usually do possess, since about the age of 8, is said power of concentration and focus. Of trying to understand the very core of the thing or at least the thoughts they evoke, whether a Bay City Rollers song, a dead actress, the aura of a city, the shapes of trees at a bus-stop. And trivial, "received" opinions are sometimes literally sickening to me. THAT part is not my problem.

My danger, in my sometimes too-harsh reactions to what I perceive as the trivial or untrue, is in becoming one of the "bad company" -- a vicious and destructive person. An example of this is my getting into arguments left and right with various of my "Friends" on Facebook over the past few months especially. For instance, one Friend from my old hometown posted something that I thought extremely trivial and dumb about getting goosebumps when seeing a Boy Scout sitting in front of the American flag while selling candy. Now, annoying as that perhaps is, I could have just ignored it or replied with a mildly sarcastic "And I get goosebumps whenever I eat my mother's apple pie at a baseball game!" But nooooo.... I posted something like, "Really? You really get goosebumps at such a cliched thing? We're in our mid-40s! How many times by now have you seen Scouts selling candy? How exactly is that inspirational any more?" The result, predictably, was a huge Facebook brouhaha, with people saying how negative I was, etc.

The Fromm book's passage that I quoted above continues with a possible other way that I could have reacted: "However, it is not always possible to avoid the company of such people [the zombies], nor even necessary. If one does not react in the expected way -- that is, in cliches and trivialities -- but directly and humanly, one will often find that such people change their behavior, often helped by the surprise affected by the shock of the unexpected." While my "Are you serious?" reaction was surely "direct" and "unexpected," it was also extremely negative, placing me in the "bad company" category, and highly unlikely to elicit any sort of future "changed behavior"!

The attitude possibilities there reminded me of an incident that happened maybe 15 years ago, while I was getting gas at a 7-11. I'd pulled up too far away from the pump, and the gas hose would not stretch all the way to my tank, stopping just inches short. (There was nothing obstructing me, I just hadn't parked very well.) I yanked and yanked with all my might; when that failed to stretch the hose, I started cursing like an insane sailor: "Goddamn it, you motherfucker..." All the while continuing to futilely try to make the hose stretch to my tank. The guy parked in front of me getting gas made eye contact and said, very calmly, "I think if you pull your car up a little, the hose will reach." The complete rationality made me laugh out loud and thank him. I immediately did as he suggested. Now, if he'd just scowled at my unnecessary outburst or said something (deserved) like, "What the fuck is your problem?" that would have contributed to my then-irrational sense of complete injustice and meanness of the gas-hose AND of everyone else in the world! But instead his simple words snapped me out of my stupid tantrum. I need to learn to be more like THAT guy, who was exhibiting Fromm's "brotherhood of man" concept!

Another thing from the Fromm book: "There are many layers of knowledge; the knowledge which is an aspect of love is one which does not stay at the periphery, but penetrates to the core. It is possible only when I can transcend the concern for myself and see the other person in his own terms. I may know, for instance, that a person is angry, even if he does not show it overtly; but I may know him more deeply than that; then I know that he is anxious, and worried; that he feels lonely, that he feels guilty. Then I know that his anger is only the manifestation of something deeper, and I see him as anxious and embarrassed, that is, as the suffering person, rather than as the angry one."

I have wanted/expected others to see through MY periphery of anger, but... I have not usually been able to do the same for others. Whenever a person has been a few inches shy of the gas tank, I've yelled at them rather than offering a calm, sane solution.

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