The Marginalian
The Marginalian

The Humanistic Philosopher and Psychologist Erich Fromm on Love and the Meaning of Respect

“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love,” the great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote as he charted the art of interbeing. Few things wound more deeply and syphon love more swiftly than the feeling of not being fully seen, of being exiled from your own totality by a simulacrum of love that showers adoration upon fragments deemed desirable, to the exclusion or grudging toleration of the rest of you. Any relationship worthy of the word “love” unfolds between two wholenesses and is resinous with respect — respect for the entirety of the person and everything that makes them themselves.

The humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900–March 18, 1980) takes up the question of what respect really means and what it looks like in his 1947 book Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics.

Erich Fromm

Fromm writes:

Care and responsibility are constituent elements of love, but without respect for and knowledge of the beloved person, love deteriorates into domination and possessiveness… To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by the knowledge of the person’s individuality.

But mutual knowledge — “the mask slipped from the face,” in Tom Stoppard’s lovely phrase — takes time, takes constancy, takes a passionate curiosity undimmed by the fading of novelty. Respect, then, is a durational practice rooted in the commitment to know one another more deeply and accept more fully what is discovered in the depths.

Art by Sophie Blackall from Things to Look Forward to

A decade later, Fromm deepened the inquiry into the nature of respect in his timelessly rewarding book The Art of Loving:

Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere = to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me.

Complement with Adrienne Rich on what makes an honorable human relationship, then revisit Fromm on the six rules of listening, spontaneity and our search for meaning, and what self-love really means.

Published July 9, 2024




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