Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

“Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.”

“A person who has not been completely alienated, who has remained sensitive and able to feel, who has not lost the sense of dignity, who is not yet “for sale”, who can still suffer over the suffering of others, who has not acquired fully the having mode of existence – briefly, a person who has remained a person and not become a thing – cannot help feeling lonely, powerless, isolated in present-day society. He cannot help doubting himself and his own convictions, if not his sanity. He cannot help suffering, even though he can experience moments of joy and clarity that are absent in the life of his “normal” contemporaries. Not rarely will he suffer from neurosis that results from the situation of a sane man living in an insane society, rather than that of the more conventional neurosis of a sick man trying to adapt himself to a sick society. In the process of going further in his analysis, i.e. of growing to greater independence and productivity,his neurotic symptoms will cure themselves.”

“Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.”

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an ordination of character which determines the relatedness of the person to the whole world as a whole, not toward one object of love”

“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.”

“If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us. If this is being “asocial” or “irrational” in their eyes, so be it. Mostly they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves. We owe nobody an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them. How many lives have been ruined by this need to “explain,” which usually implies that the explanation be “understood,” i.e. approved. Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds, your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.”

“Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.”

“It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas and feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consensual validation as such has no bearing on reason or mental health.”

“One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often.”

“If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to all others, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism.”

“Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. ‘Patriotism’ is its cult… Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.”

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. ”

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”

“Love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.”

“Man’s main task is to give birth to himself. ”

“Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity; he experiences his life energy as an investment with which he should make the highest profit, considering his position and the situation on the personality market. He is alienated from himself, from his fellow men and from nature. His main aim is profitable exchange of his skills, knowledge, and of himself, his “personality package” with others who are equally intent on a fair and profitable exchange. Life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except the one to consume.”

“Freedom is not a constant attribute which we either “have” or “have not.” In fact, there is no such thing as “freedom” except as a word and an abstract concept. There is only one reality: the act of freeing ourselves in the process of making choices. In this process the degree of our capacity to make choices varies with each act, with our practice of life.”

“He gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness — of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other’s sense of aliveness by enhancing his own sense of aliveness. He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him. ”

“Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort.”

“There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as ‘moral indignation,’ which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue.”

“To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable.”

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies”

“There is nothing inhuman, evil, or irrational which does not give some comfort, provided it is shared by a group.”

“Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much.”

“Alienation as we find it in modern society is almost total… Man has created a world of man-made things as it never existed before. He has constructed a complicated social machine to administer the technical machine he built. The more powerful and gigantic the forces are which he unleashes, the more powerless he feels himself as a human being. He is owned by his creations, and has lost ownership of himself.”

“Our conscious motivations, ideas, and beliefs are a blend of false information, biases, irrational passions, rationalizations, prejudices, in which morsels of truth swim around and give the reassurance albeit false, that the whole mixture is real and true. The thinking processes attempt to organize this whole cesspool of illusions according to the laws of plausibility. This level of consciousness is supposed to reflect reality; it is the map we use for organizing our life.”

“Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved.”

“The only truly affluent are those who do not want more than they have.”

“Greed has no satiation point, since its consummation does not fill the inner emptiness, boredom, loneliness, and depression it is meant to overcome.”

“The real opposition is that between the ego-bound man, whose existence is structured by the principle of having, and the free man, who has overcome his egocentricity.”

“That millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

“The mature response to the problem of existence is love.”

“The pleasure in complete domination over another person (or other animate creature) is the very essence of the sadistic drive. Another way of formulating the same thought is to say that the aim of sadism is to transform man into a thing, something animate into something inanimate, since by complete and absolute control the living loses one essential quality of life – freedom.”

“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.”

“Reason flows from the blending of rational thought and feeling. If the two functions are torn apart, thinking deteriorates into schizoid intellectual activity and feeling deteriorates into neurotic life-damaging passions.”

“The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.”

“. . . freedom to create and construct, to wonder and to venture. Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well-fed cog in the machine . . . It is not enough that men are not slaves; if social conditions further the existence of automatons, the result will not be love of life, but love of death.”

“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

“In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.”

“Critical and radical thought will only bear fruit when it is blended with the most precious quality man is endowed with – the love of life”

“There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feelings as “moral indignation,” which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue. The “indignant” person has for once the satisfaction of despising and treating a creature as “inferior,” coupled with the feeling of his own superiority and rightness.”

“Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality. ”

“if I am what I have, and I lose what I have, who then am I?”

“…in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power-almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving. Could it be that only those things are considered worthy of being learned with which one can earn money or prestige, and that love, which “only” profits the soul, but is profitless in the modern sense, is a luxury we have no right to spend energy on?”

“Thus, the ultimate choice for a man, inasmuch as he is driven to transcend himself, is to create or to destroy, to love or to hate.”

“To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness”

“Freedom does not mean license.”

“If faith cannot be reconciled with rational thinking, it has to be eliminated as an anachronistic remnant of earlier stages of culture and replaced by science dealing with facts and theories which are intelligible and can be validated.”

“We should free ourselves from the narrowness of being related only to those familiar to us, either by the fact that they are blood relations or, in a larger sense, that we eat the same food, speak the same language, and have the same “ common sense.” Knowing men in the sense of compassionate and empathetic knowledge requires that we get rid of the narrowing ties of a given society, race or culture and penetrate to the depth of that human reality in which we are all nothing but human. True compassion and knowledge of man has been largely underrated as a revolutionary factor in the development of man, just as art has been. It is a noteworthy phenomenon that in the development of capitalism and its ethics, compassion (or mercy) ceases to be a virtue.”

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