“Protect me from the cynical mind
That scoffs at Truth and Beauty
And makes of no account
Those things which are of good report.”
One of the people I follow regularly is astrologer, Robert Wilkinson. He wrote an insightful article today, A Thought On Cynics, Critics, and Others Who Judge Too Harshly. An excerpt from this article:
So often we humans take a one-sided approach to how we view and interpret things. So often we humans only see that which we believe is in error, and forget to praise the good, true, and beautiful. So often we humans offer a stronger negative to what our minds judge rather than offer an acknowledgment of “those things which are of good report.”
Last evening I was reading again some writings by social philosopher, Erich Fromm and find again something related:
“There is only one possible, productive solution for the relationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spontaneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a free and independent individual…. However, if the economic, social and political conditions… do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality in the sense just mentioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world which promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of his freedom.” (Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom [N.Y.: Rinehart, 1941], pp. 36–7. The point is repeated on pp. 31, 256–7.)
One of the cornerstone books in my own personal philosophy by noted psychoanalyst and social philosopher, Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be challenges us to evaluate what kind of world we are creating and our legacy. (i) Selflessness – Being – Natural – Balanced; or (ii) Selfishness – Having – Artificial – Imbalanced.
To Have Or to Be? is one of the seminal books of the second half of the 20th century. Nothing less than a manifesto for a new social and psychological revolution to save our threatened planet, this book is a summary of the penetrating thought of Erich Fromm. His thesis is that two modes of existence struggle for the spirit of humankind: the having mode, which concentrates on material possessions, power, and aggression, and is the basis of the universal evils of greed, envy, and violence; and the being mode, which is based on love, the pleasure of sharing, and in productive activity.
Erich Fromm in his books, Art of Being, The Sane Society, Escape from Freedom, and To Have, Or Be, discusses well-being at length. He lists five human needs to promote well-being.
As human beings, we are aware of our separateness from each other, and seek to overcome it. Fromm calls this our need for relatedness, and views it as love in the broadest sense. Love, he says, “is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.” (p 37 of The Sane Society). It allows us to transcend our separateness without denying us our uniqueness.
The need is so powerful that sometimes we seek it in unhealthy ways. For example, some seek to eliminate their isolation by submitting themselves to another person, to a group, or to their conception of a God. Others look to eliminate their isolation by dominating others. Either way, these are not satisfying: Your separateness is not overcome.
Another way some attempt to overcome this need is by denying it. The opposite of relatedness is what Fromm calls narcissism. Narcissism — the love of self — is natural in infants, in that they don’t perceive themselves as separate from the world and others to begin with. But in adults, it is a source of pathology. Like the schizophrenic, the narcissist has only one reality: the world of his own thoughts, feelings, and needs. His world becomes what he wants it to be, and he loses contact with reality.
Fromm believes that we all desire to overcome, to transcend, another fact of our being: Our sense of being passive creatures. We want to be creators. There are many ways to be creative: We give birth, we plant seeds, we make pots, we paint pictures, we write books, we love each other. Creativity is, in fact, an expression of love
Unfortunately, some don’t find an avenue for creativity. Frustrated, they attempt to transcend their passivity by becoming destroyers instead. Destroying puts me “above” the things — or people — I destroy. It makes me feel powerful. We can hate as well as love. But in the end, it fails to bring us that sense of transcendence we need.
We also need roots. We need to feel at home in the universe, even though, as human beings, we are somewhat alienated from the natural world.
The simplest version is to maintain our ties to our mothers. But to grow up means we have to leave the warmth of our mothers’ love. To stay would be what Fromm calls a kind of psychological incest. In order to manage in the difficult world of adulthood, we need to find new, broader roots. We need to discover our brotherhood (and sisterhood) with humanity.
This, too has its pathological side: For example, the schizophrenic tries to retreat into a womb-like existence, one where, you might say, the umbilical cord has never been cut. There is also the neurotic who is afraid to leave his home, even to get the mail. And there’s the fanatic who sees his tribe, his country, his church… as the only good one, the only real one. Everyone else is a dangerous outsider, to be avoided or even destroyed.
4. A sense of identity
“Man may be defined as the animal that can say ‘I.'” (p 62 of The Sane Society) Fromm believes that we need to have a sense of identity, of individuality, in order to stay sane.
This need is so powerful that we are sometimes driven to find it, for example by doing anything for signs of status, or by trying desperately to conform. We sometimes will even give up our lives in order to remain a part of our group. But this is only pretend identity, an identity we take from others, instead of one we develop ourselves, and it fails to satisfy our need.
5. A frame of orientation
Finally, we need to understand the world and our place in it. Again, our society — and especially the religious aspects of our culture — often attempts to provide us with this understanding. Things like our myths, our philosophies, and our sciences provide us with structure.
Fromm says this is really two needs: First, we need a frame of orientation — almost anything will do. Even a bad one is better than none! And so people are generally quite gullible. We want to believe, sometimes even desperately. If we don’t have an explanation handy, we will make one up, via rationalization.
The second aspect is that we want to have a good frame of orientation, one that is useful, accurate. This is where reason comes in. It is nice that our parents and others provide us with explanations for the world and our lives, but if they don’t hold up, what good are they? A frame of orientation needs to be rational.
Fromm adds one more thing: He says we don’t just want a cold philosophy or material science. We want a frame of orientation that provides us with meaning. We want understanding, but we want a warm, human understanding.