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

The Art of Loving

Humans have been concerned with love for centuries, so it should be no wonder that a perfectly up-to-date book on the psychology of love was written before most of today's students were born. This book is The Art of Loving (1956) by Erich Fromm. Fromm—who died in 1980—wrote 20 books on different topics, but The Art of Loving is his best-known work. It is a slim volume packed with insights.

Solutions to the Problem of Human Existence

What famous statement did Fromm make? What unique human ability causes problems?

Fromm made a famous statement in The Art of Loving : "Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence." To Fromm, our biggest problem as humans comes from our biggest gift: our awareness that we exist. We are "life being aware of itself." The degree to which we have developed this awareness is unique. This is part of what makes human experience precious, but it also leads to problems. If you realize you exist as a distinct person, a thing apart, then you can also feel separateness and existential loneliness.

What is existential loneliness?

Existential means pertaining to existence. Existential loneliness is the feeling of being cut-off or alone in your existence. Just as we know we exist, we are able to know that we will die. We are capable of sensing the infinite, or feeling like tiny specks of dust in the universe, insignificant and worthless.

You can be surrounded by people and still feel existential aloneness, as some students discover.

How did the student feel existential loneliness?

Fromm wrote about the characteristic humans have of being "existentially alone" or cut off from the rest of the world. This topic really hit home with me, because this quarter I have felt more isolated from the rest of the world than ever before.

I grew up in a town called Portal. The population of Portal is about 700 people, plus an assortment of cats, dogs, and other pets. We have about five gasoline stations, a bank, a post office, three Minit Marts, and a public school, which I attended. The school had around 200 people, and everybody knew everybody. Most of the classes were designed so that if you gave the slightest bit of effort, you could get by. Life for me during this time was simple. No complications, just "pretty smooth sailing."

Then comes college.

I'd heard various opinions on this thing called college in my later high school years, ranging from very hard, to mind-blowing, to fun, to "a whole different ball game," and many other descriptions. My opinion since arriving here is: it's all this, and more.

College is truly an overwhelming experience. There are so many things to get involved in, so many tests to study for, so many people to meet...

College has given me a whole new outlook on the meaning of existence. I have experienced a culture shock that has left me with a painful feeling of aloneness in the world. I guess all freshmen have this feeling sooner or later. My parents say they experienced the same thing, and it will pass. I sincerely hope so, because I certainly can't go with this terrible feeling for the next four years of my life. [Author's files]

Who reports the most loneliness?

Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, says simply, "In examining the human experience, I find that loneliness is one of the great plagues of mankind." Our modern way of life fails to provide the community and extended family ties of ancient village life. Contrary to a popular stereotype, old people do not report the most loneliness. Studies show the loneliest people tend to be adolescents and young adults.

What is "a powerful and primary motivation of humans," according to Fromm?

Fromm believed that a powerful and primary motivation of humans, as strong in its own way as the drives of hunger and thirst, was the need to overcome aloneness by achieving union with something outside the self. Fromm lists four different ways this union can be achieved, four "solutions" to the problem of existential loneliness. The four show up in nearly every human culture. They are orgiastic states, conformity, creative activity, and love.


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