One of my favorite books by Erich Fromm is titled The Art of Loving. His main message is that cultivating love is an art form. Fromm gives examples of innate talents in everything from painting to dance to music to acting, showing the reader that natural talent only accounts for a small percentage of the art created by the artist.
For example, someone who sits at the piano and starts playing the Moonlight Sonata at an early age (like my son did) has to practice hard if a professional status is ever to be achieved (which he did not, opting for the trumpet instead).
That is the key element for Fromm. The ability to love takes practice because the innate feeling can only take us so far.
My Own Experience With Love
Having been married for almost seventeen years and having spent the last fifteen years taking care of my children, I can attest to that. My initial feelings, both for my wife and for my children, were only seeds. I have had to nurture and weed on a continual basis. Thankfully, my ability to love has grown because I have made it a priority in my life.
Due to great social unrest, I feel that we need to start doing something similar in the area of social harmony.
Harmony Begins Within
In recent years, my focus on social harmony has increased. It’s been a turnaround for me. In reaction to the divisive and acrimonious rhetoric all around me, I had allowed myself to fall into the trap of being angry and irritated for prolonged periods of time. I was all too prepared to blame everyone but myself for the problem.
Then I thought of Fromm and my experiences with love. I realized, that much like love, harmony begins within. If I cannot be in harmony within, how can I expect to be in harmony with others? As a result, I recommitted to my spiritual practice, focusing on surrender, flow, harmony, and love.
But I needed more than that. I wasn’t going to solve the larger problem alone. What else was I supposed to practice and why?
More Needed for Social Harmony
As I have written about before, I realized that touchy-feely wasn’t going to cut it, that wishful thinking wasn’t going to be enough, and that just like a budding artist, I needed guidance from teachers. Most importantly, I needed a practice plan.
Being a newly ordained interfaith minister (this was last year), I began by looking to interfaith activists, such as Dr. Leonard Swidler, for guidance. Then I looked at conflict zones for solutions and found inspiration from both Betty Williams and Padraig O’Malley based on their work during the Northern Ireland peace process. My affection for Eastern mysticism unearthed principles about human behavior that explained a lot of the turmoil we are experiencing and I found other resources.
Can’t Do It Alone
I began practicing alone, but that wasn’t enough. It’s one of the greatest misnomers created by the spiritual-but-not-religious group (that I have belonged to for so long). We’ve always thought that we could do everything from a personal perspective.
Not this time. I had to reach out. So I started writing articles about this topic. I gave talks. I created a program for myself. It became a program for others. I partnered with Charter for Compassion to make it available online. I realized that I needed to be in constant cooperation with others for my efforts to make any kind of impact.
What Am I Doing?
That’s a good question. What am I doing? Should I tell you or should I encourage you to take my course? I guess I can do both. There is nuance in the course, but I am willing to share my actions with you in bullet point format.
- I am training myself to see the wide spectrum of harmony and to accept all the instruments in the human orchestra (yes, all of them, even those I don’t agree with).
- I am training myself to discern between the human and ideological personas in each human being. The human personas, which include co-human characteristics, are much alike across the board while the ideological personas can be wildly different. The only way to dehumanize other people is to see them as ideologues only. Remembering the co-human elements has changed my outlook when I disagree with people.
- I am using Dr. Swidler’s dialogue guidelines in most, if not all, of my conversations. I have found them to be extremely impactful.
- I am training myself to recognize the attraction-repulsion axiom in myself and others. It simply states that strong attraction to one thing automatically creates strong repulsion for the opposite. In addition, I have also been practicing moderating behaviors to make sure that I don’t fall into that trap; to make sure that my love for one thing won’t cause hate for another.
How Is It Going?
It’s still early days for me, but I can say that having concrete things to practice helps a lot! The same as with any other art form, it’s not just blind practice, but the right kind of practice that creates results. It’s like knowing the right position to sit in at the piano, the right fingering on the guitar, and the correct way to blend colors.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had an inclination for harmony and preferred it to the feeling to acrimony (I really don’t like to fight) but now I’ve realized that becoming good at living in harmony with others takes practice, persistence, and guidance.
That is why I approach harmony like an art form.
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Note: You can still join 120+ people from 12 countries for my online course about this topic that starts on May 21 for the meager price of $15 (which all goes to charity).
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