This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.

Applications of Love

Fromm notes that the attitude of love can be applied to many different situations:

Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character, which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole...

What different forms of love did Fromm describe?

Brotherly love is a benevolent attitude toward people in general. It is similar to what Lee described as agape but (as described by Fromm) less intense and more commonplace. Fromm says, "If I penetrate to the core, I perceive our identity." It is possible to respond to this identity in countless everyday situations. A clerk at a store, a policeman, a teacher, and a student—all have opportunities to respond with love to other humans. If such friendliness is found throughout a community—a school, fraternity, sorority, town—the quality of life is enhanced for all.

What does Fromm mean in saying most mothers provide the milk, but not all mothers provide the honey?

Motherly love is love for the helpless, epitomized in the special love of mother for child. Its importance is clear even when children are young and dependent. After some traumatic event like a scraped knee, there is nobody quite like Mama to give comfort and support. We could be modern and call motherly love parental love, but Fromm (writing in the 1950s) used the more antiquated term. Besides, there is arguably something special between mothers and children.

Fromm describes Motherly love as unconditional, supportive love. By unconditional he means freely given, regardless of circumstances. A good mother does not reject her baby, no matter what. This feeling of acceptance and security is extremely important for young children. It lays the groundwork for a sane and happy existence in later life.

Fromm makes an interesting point about Motherly love. He says almost all mothers provide the "milk" or basic care for children, such as protecting them and feeding them. But not all mothers provide the "honey." The honey is a special joy in living—an attitude that conveys to the growing child a sense that life is good; the world is a friendly place. The best mothers and fathers instill this feeling.

Why is "self-love" a tricky concept?

Self-love has a role in Fromm's theory. Fromm believed the attitude of love should be applied to yourself. But self-love is a tricky concept. When Fromm says "love yourself," he does not mean "look out for your own narrow interests." To Fromm, self-love is the opposite of selfishness. Self-love means including yourself in the brotherly love you feel for all humanity. It is a feeling of being worthy, of having something to offer.

Fromm says self-love is necessary before you can love somebody else. If you do not have self-love, you might feel unworthy of giving or receiving love. In extreme cases, people with low self-esteem seem to sabotage themselves in love relationships, as if to prove they are unworthy of such happiness. On the other hand, if you have that basic security and joy of living that Fromm traced to early years of unconditional love from your mother, you will feel there is something substantial within yourself to share with another human being. You will have faith in your own ability to give love, and you will accept love from another person gracefully without disbelief or guilt.


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