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The Art of Being

Notes and quotes from Erich Fromm's (awesome) book on psychology and humanism


the awareness, realization, development, etc., of one’s self almost always mean something other than the enhancement of one’s own subjective powers.

In the end, a person orients his life either toward having or toward being.

Everything is made dependent upon whether one is in possession of the truth or whether one is in the right.

He or she is himself or herself only insofar as that person has something.

so does one have psychic abilities for self-reliance, too: a capacity for love, a capacity for reason, and a capacity for productive activity. But it is also possible for a person to replace those innate psychic powers with an orientation toward having, such that a capacity for love, reason, and productive activity depends upon the possession of those objects of having upon which the heart is set.

In contradistinction to objects of having—which are expended when they are used up—love, reason, and productive activity grow and increase when they are shared and used.

the full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.

every living being with the wish to live, and whatever he believes to be his reasons are only secondary thoughts by which he rationalizes this biologically given impulse.

Thus the need to destroy or the need to take drugs are usually not supposed to be needs that can claim their legitimacy from the fact that their satisfaction might produce pleasure.

the overcoming of greed, illusions, and hate, and the attainment of love and compassion, are the conditions for attaining optimal being.

developing oneself in such a way as to come closest to the model of human nature (Spinoza) or, in other words, to grow optimally according to the conditions of human existence

Our reason functions only to the degree to which it is not flooded by greed. The person who is the prisoner of his irrational passions loses the capacity for objectivity and is necessarily at the mercy of his passions; he rationalizes when he believes he is expressing the truth.

The outer chains have simply been put inside of man. The desires and thoughts that the suggestion apparatus of society fills him with, chain him more thoroughly than outer chains. This is so because man can at least be aware of outer chains but be unaware of inner chains, carrying them with the illusion that he is free.

products with built-in obsoleteness, products that are overpriced or actually useless if not harmful to the buyer, advertising that is a blend of a little truth and much falsehood,

If the name of a man or the title of a book is made famous by clever publicity, the average person is willing to believe the work’s claims.

fake and fraud are nothing new; they have always existed. But there was perhaps no time in which the fact of being in the public eye was of such exclusive importance.

in speaking of sham I do not imply that the leaders and practitioners in various movements are consciously dishonest or intend to deceive the public.

perhaps the greatest sham is that what is promised—explicitly or implicitly—is a deep change in personality, while what is given is momentary improvement of symptoms or, at best, stimulation of energy and some relaxation.

One supports an idolatrous cult and thus decreases one’s independence, one supports the dehumanizing feature of our culture—the commercialization of all values—as well as the spirit of P.R. falsehoods, the no-effort doctrine, and the perversion of traditional values such as self-knowledge, joy, well-being—by clever packaging. As a result, one’s mind becomes confused and filled with new illusions in addition to those that exist already and should be gotten rid of.

The basis for any approach to self-transformation is an ever-increasing awareness of reality and the shedding of illusions.

intrinsic untruths and deceptions that do contaminate teaching, such as announcing that great results can be achieved without effort, or that the craving for fame can go together with egolessness, or that methods of mass suggestion are compatible with independence.

Faith in life, in oneself, in others must be built on the hard rock of realism;

when human beings are transformed into commodities, what can their conversation be but trivial?

Perhaps most trivial talk is a need to talk about oneself;

It is the function of trivial conversation to answer the question “How do I remain alone without being lonely?”

One should see the insincerity behind the mask of friendliness, the destructiveness behind the mask of eternal complaints about unhappiness, the narcissism behind the charm.

a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—

Force is camouflaged by consent; the consent is brought about by methods of mass suggestion.

These are indeed small pains. Regretfully, one must be willing to accept them cheerfully and without fretting if one wants to learn what is essential,

because of the gigantic power and size of the bureaucracy of the state, army, industry, the replacement of personal bosses by impersonal bureaucracies, the individual became more powerless than he was, even before—but he is not aware of his powerlessness.

A whim is any desire that emerges spontaneously, without any structural connection with the whole personality and its goals.

Following a whim is, in fact, the result of deep inner passivity blended with a wish to avoid boredom. Will is based on activity, whim on passivity.

The greater the sense of powerlessness and the greater the lack of authentic will, the more grows either submission or an obsessional desire for satisfaction of one’s whims and the insistence on arbitrariness.

antiauthoritarianism can—and has—become a rationalization for narcissistic self-indulgence,

the whole person is geared and devoted to the one thing he has decided on,

Halfheartedness leads one to prison,

contemporary industrial society the opportunities for doing things wholeheartedly are greatly reduced.

the optimal organization of society as a whole gives everyone the possibility to contribute with his whole heart. However, to achieve this would require that society and its political representative, the state, ceased to be powers that stood over and against the citizen,

Binges of widened consciousness are escapes from a narrow consciousness,

Our dreams often testify to our creative activity, our daydreams to our mental laziness.

as if a veil that had been in front of our eyes permanently—without our recognizing it was there—and had suddenly dropped away.

A different kind of awareness is that of becoming aware of what is hidden.

Awareness refers not only to the uncovering of inner conflicts but equally to conflicts in social life that are negated and harmonized by ideologies (social rationalizations).

the illusions about social reality affect the clarity of his mind and thus also prevent him from liberating himself from the illusions about himself.

The strength of man’s position in the world depends on the degree of adequacy of his perception of reality. The less adequate it is, the more disoriented and hence insecure he is and hence in need of idols to lean on and thus find security. The more adequate it is, the more can he stand on his own feet and have his center within himself.

solved? Is man not better off to live with illusions than with a painful truth that does not help him to liberate himself in real life?

One may fully realize that nothing in reality can be changed, but one has succeeded in living and dying as a human person and not as a sheep.

the most important step in the art of being is everything that leads to and enhances our capacity for heightened awareness and, as far as the mind is concerned, for critical, questioning thinking. This is not primarily a question of intelligence, education, or age. It is essentially a matter of character; more specifically, of the degree of personal independence from irrational authorities and idols

One discovers answers to problems only when one feels that they are burning and that it is a matter of life and death to solve them.

Another helpful attitude is one of deep distrust.

a majority of people whose statements are untrue or half true believe sincerely that they are speaking the truth,

The capacity to concentrate has become a rarity in the life of cybernetic man. On the contrary, it seems as if he does everything to avoid concentration.

nothing is worth the effort to concentrate on it, because no goal is pursued passionately.

The less strong their self, the greater the fear of losing themselves in the act of concentration on the non-self.

Where would industry be if people began to concentrate on a few things rather than getting tired quickly of something and rushing out to buy new things that are exciting because they are new?

it does not help to try to force out tangential thoughts, to treat them as if they were enemies, and hence to feel defeated if one has not won the battle. They need to be treated gently,

the capacity to tolerate failure is of crucial importance.

practicing concentration on thoughts and on feelings.

we should practice concentration in reading by going to the essence of the author’s thought,

knowledge of the surface is desirable, knowledge gained from concentration is disturbing.

achieve a higher degree of non-attachment, of non-greed, and of non-illusion;

therapeutic one in the conventional sense, i.e., to help the patient to reduce his individual “extra-suffering” to the general, socially accepted level of suffering.

he questioned all conscious thought, intentions, and virtues and demonstrated how often they are nothing but forms of resistance to hide the inner reality.

people much more rarely go to a psychoanalyst for help in the conflict between the demands of conscience and those of self-interest than in connection with family and personal conflicts

The analyses may have indeed cut the tie with father, but under the disguise of this independence builds up a new tie, that to the analyst.

for both existential and historical reasons, man seeks to attach himself to “magic helpers,” in many forms: shamans, priests, kings, political leaders, fathers, teachers, psychoanalysts, as well as to many institutions such as Church and State.

finding an answer to the uncertainty of life by transforming a person, an institution, an idea into an absolute, i.e., into an idol

Without effort and willingness to experience pain and anxiety, nobody grows, in fact nobody achieves anything worth achieving.

the last step enlightenment could make: the awareness and control of irrational passions.

optimal self-awareness; of the attaining of well-being, independence; of the capacity to love; and of critical, disillusioned thinking, of being rather than having.

one must have learned to be still, to sit relaxed, and to concentrate.

“feeling around” is an imaginative “tasting” of various possible feelings until, if one has succeeded, a certain realization appears with clarity as being the root of the conscious experience

free association. One lets go of one’s thought control, permits one’s thoughts to come in, and tries to scrutinize them with the aim of discovering hidden connections between them,

A conscious, “official” one, as it were, which is the cover story for the secret plot that dominates our behavior. The discrepancy between the secret and the conscious plots

significant contradictions between the two plots that severe conflicts, insecurity, doubts, and waste of energy occur

A fifth approach is to let one’s thoughts and feelings be centered around the goals of living, such as overcoming greed, hate, illusions,

the moment when one discovers the narcissistic components of one’s friendliness or the sadistic elements of one’s helpfulness, the shock may be so intense that for a moment or a day one feels oneself to be an utterly worthless creature, of whom nothing good could be said.

knowledge of others often precedes self-knowledge.

Unless he can see the real meaning behind the double-talk, the reality behind the illusions, he is unable to be aware of himself as he is, and is aware only of himself as he is supposed to be.

Most people—including myself—lie without knowing it: that “defense” means “war” and “duty” submission; that “virtue” means “obedience” and “sin” disobedience; that the idea that parents instinctively love their children is a myth; that fame is only rarely based on admirable human qualities, and even not too often on real achievements; that history is a distorted record because it is written by the victors; that over-modesty is not necessarily the proof of a lack of vanity; that loving is the opposite of craving and greed; that everyone tries to rationalize evil intentions and actions and to make them appear noble and beneficial ones; that the pursuit of power means the persecution of truth, justice and love; that present-day industrial society is centered around the principle of selfishness, having and consuming, and not on principles of love and respect for life, as it preaches.

Self-analysis should be done for at least 30 minutes every morning, if possible at the same time and place, and outside interference should be avoided as far as possible.

the value of individuality is very ambiguous.

The more individuality disappears in fact, the more it is exalted in words. Industry, television, habits of consumption pay homage to the individuality of the persons they manipulate:

illusion of individuality through trivial differences,

Hearing becomes transbiological-humanized, active, creative, “free”—rather than a merely biologically necessary response.