‘Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person: it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one ‘object’ of love.’*
“The universe is a communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects.”**
Erich Fromm wrote about how we believe the fallacy about love, meaning:
‘most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty.’*
The object, then, must be worthy of being loved. Fromm’s point turns this around. The person who treats all with a consistency of care is more loving that the one totally and utterly besotted by one other, indifference to others.
‘Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object – and that everything goes by itself afterward.’*
There is a delicious connection between love as a power of the soul and time. Alan Burdick writes about our perception of time:
‘”We must put aside the idea of a single time, all that counts are the multiple times that make up experience.”^
These multiple times are the ones we each bring to the encounters of life:
“Our slightest social exchanges – our glances, our smiles, and frowns – gain potency from our ability to synchronise them among ourselves […]. We bend to make time with one another, and the many temporal distortions we experience are indicators of empathy; the better able I am to envisage myself in your state of mind, and you in mind, the better we can recognise a threat, an ally, a friend, or someone in need.”^
These are not only powerful thoughts to guide toward exploring what it is to be human together, but also when it comes to identifying our purpose in life. There’ll be some interests or concerns that come to feel like friends to us: this something resonates in us and itself vibrates with our energy. This is what we must do in life. Time will feel as if it is slowing down and speeding up in a synchronicity of self and contribution.
Love and empathy are not characteristics we have or do not have, or that are fixed for our lifetimes – they are learned and practised and individualised:
“But empathy is a sophisticated trait, a mark of emotional adulthood: it takes learning and time. As children grow and develop, they gain a better sense of how to navigate the social world. Put another way, it may be that a critical aspect of growing up is learning how to bend our time in step with others.’^
As soon as I read this I could hear Sherry Turkle telling me about her research into how technology is interrupting our interactions with one another, exaggerating the worst of our interconnecting. Alan Burdick’s comments arise from neuropsychologist Sylvie Droit-Volet‘s research into people’s sensing of time when shown images of people expressing different emotions or being younger or older shifted their perception of time:
‘In one experiment, she presented people with images of human faces — some neutral, some happy, some angry, some frightened — each displayed on the screen for anywhere between half a second to a second and a half. The research subjects were then asked to evaluate how long the faces appeared for.
She found that across images displayed for the same duration, happy faces were perceived to last longer than neutral ones and shorter than angry or fearful ones.’^^
As I have said before, I am not against technology but hold that the more technology we use, the more time we have to spend time with one another – playfully, exploringly, discovering and learning and practising.
We are, it seems, makers of time to love.
(*From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(**Thomas Berry, quoted in Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)
(^Alan Burdick, quoted in maria Popova’s BrainPickings: Empathy is a Clock that Ticks in the Empathy of Another.)
(^^Maria Popova in BrainPickings: Empathy is a Clock that Ticks in the Empathy of Another.)