If your friend tells you they are starting a business with someone they met a few months ago, you, as a devoted friend, probably have some concerns about how much your friend should trust this person. Your friend is convinced that the person has all the qualities of a successful entrepreneur - charismatic, passionate, optimistic and so on, and they assure you they see a long future in this business, so, despite your concerns, you wish them every success.
After some time, the business fails. Your friend is devastated, but gets through it and begins to dream of starting a new business. Your friend makes no effort to develop their business skills, or understand the reasons for the failure. Then, your friend meets a new person with whom they decide to start the exact same business. This time they are convinced it will work. By now you probably think your friend is crazy.
In The Art of Loving, social philosopher Erich Fromm wrote that “there is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love. If this were the case with any other activity, people would be eager to know the reasons for the failure, and to learn how one could do better—or they would give up the activity…”
One only has to look to Netflix’s romcom section to see hundreds of stories of love as a passive activity, that happens once one has stumbled upon a desirable object. Fromm proposes instead that learning to love is an art, and just like learning the art of living well or learning any artistic domain, there are 3 essential steps to develop mastery:
- Learn the theory
- Practice extensively, and;
- Ensure mastery of the art is the principal concern, nothing else is more important.
This holds true whether the domain of choice is music, the visual arts, woodwork, writing, architecture, mathematics, or so on. Fromm described an unfortunate reality where other worldly concerns were stopping people from obtaining the love they wanted:
“...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.”
The Art of Loving was published almost 70 years ago, yet our culture continues to grapple with the same problems. There is no expression of human excellence that can be achieved without deliberate practice. To love and live well are no exception.