Copyright © 2007-2018 Russ Dewey
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...
Brotherly love as described by Fromm is a benevolent attitude toward people in general. It is based on the perception of relationships between all of humanity. Fromm says, "If I penetrate to the core, I perceive our identity."
A clerk at a store, a policeman, a teacher, 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 was brotherly love as described by Fromm?
Motherly love is love for the helpless, epitomized in the special love of mother for child. Its importance is clear when children are young. 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 described 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.
Fromm wrote that 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 and the world is a friendly place. The best mothers and fathers instill this feeling.
What does Fromm mean in saying most mothers provide the milk, but not all mothers provide the honey?
Self-love has an interesting role in Fromm's theory, probably because he knew the concept would be misunderstood. Fromm believed the attitude of love should be applied to yourself, but not as selfishness.
To Fromm, self-love is the opposite of selfishness. Self-love meant including yourself in the brotherly love you feel for all humanity. It is a feeling of being worthy, of having something to offer.
How is "self-love" not the same as selfishness?
Fromm says self-love is necessary before you can love somebody else. If you do not feel you have something to give, might feel unworthy of giving or receiving love. In extreme cases, people with low self-esteem 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. Then you can accept love from another gracefully without disbelief or guilt.
Conceptions of God and Conceptions of Love
In his book The Art of Loving, Fromm went beyond discussions of romantic love to consider the attitude of love in all its aspects. He even developed a theory about historical depictions of God and the different sorts of love they embodied.
How did Fromm extend his discussion of love into religious philosophy?
Fromm believed that in the earliest human cultures, most of which occurred before the invention of writing, God was seen as a power that gave Motherly love.
This is the Garden of Eden stage, so to speak. Some scholars believe there is evidence for maternal gods, in the form of fertility symbols, long before the patriachal gods of the Old Testament.
Fromm was not necessarily implying that, but he saw the earliest concepts of God as maternal in the sense that God loved humanity unconditionally, as a mother loves her children. The love is seen as benevolent and protective.
In the next stage, Fromm says, God is seen as a threatening, paternalistic figure–a punishing, demanding father. This coincides with the appearance of written culture, codified laws, and a class of priests to enforce written rules. This resembles the Old Testament image of a wrathful God who makes commandments, demands sacrifices, and destroys the disobedient.
The third stage occurs, Fromm says, when the father-image God is mellowed into a loving, protective father. This is the image of God evoked by references to God the Father that imply a benevolent, protective role. However, it is not unconditional love like a mother's; it is a love that implies maturity and responsibility.
What progression did Fromm see in human conceptions of God?
The fourth stage, in Fromm's view the highest evolution of the God concept, occurs when people see God as "everything, as reality." In this stage, you love God by loving existence–by loving all God's creatures and manifestations.
As you can see, Fromm took the idea of love far beyond the narrow confines of romantic involvements between couples. He felt love was the solution to existence not just because it made our hearts throb for a special person, but because the pattern of love could extend into everything we do.
Write to Dr. Dewey at email@example.com.