Decisions, decisions, decisions.


erich-fromm-66468Not too long ago, I participated in a brief Facebook discussion of the proposition that “love is a decision.” I don’t remember exactly if a consensus was reached, but the fact that we had the difference of opinion gives me license to present my opinion here.

Many years ago (Sheesh! I’m old enough to say something I remember happened many years ago, and it’s true) the late Fr. John Hart Olson, Rector of Christ Church (Episcopal) in Ontario, CA, told me “love is not a feeling, it is a decision.” When I objected, he gave me a copy of Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving (1).

[Hear a recording of the Christ Church organ here.]

Jon guided my thinking in many ways, but he seldom gave me a book to read. Most of his guidance came from his matchless sermons or from long, meandering conversations—mostly in the sacristy of Christ Church. He would sit in the sacristy for hours talking with his parishioners, drinking Coke after Coke, after Coke. Jon was as conflicted and difficult and contradictory as any person I’ve ever known. None of that mattered (matters) because his teachings were honest and true. And his love was genuine.

Jon gave me The Art of Loving at a time when I not only considered myself to be unlovable, but was also convinced that I could not love anyone else. It was 1972.

Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision (2).

That paragraph has stuck with me for over 40 years now (it’s the most often-quoted passage from Fromm). Within three years of reading it, I had filed for divorce. It seemed I had decided not to love my wife. That proved to be a ridiculously false assumption. The “feeling” that first brought us together had evaporated (at least on my part), but we cared for each other until the day she died in spite of our wildly divergent life experience after our divorce. I am reminded of our decision to love nearly every day as I manage a trust fund she established—and made me the sole trustee.

Most of the decisions we make to loveFromm describes many kinds of love, not simply romantic love—do not last a lifetime because we are too often separated from, lose connection with, people we have decided to love. I am happy to report that at least one person (besides members of my family) will read this whom I decided to love sometime around seventh grade. And there are a precious few others who will most likely read this whom I have loved for decades—the quality of the love Jon Olson taught us to strive for is evidenced by my near certainty that at least five people who also sat and talked with him will read this. We are in regular communication, even if it’s only on Facebook.

Choose someone out of the crowd and decide to love them?

Choose someone out of the crowd and decide to love them?

I know that, were I in trouble, I could count on any one of them for support, and they on me were they in trouble. The fact is that none of us based our relationships on a “feeling” (that’s not true—my relationship with one of them has included the complication of strong feelings of more than one kind of love). We love each other because at some time between 1967 and 1974 we simply decided it would be so.

And here’s the real joy of those decisions. Because I joined,became a part of an intentional community, that is, one based on our individual decisions to love the other members of the community, I allowed myself to develop abiding friendships. And, I am sure I can say, we still care about each other although no two of us live in the same place. We have married, divorced, found partners and lovers, broken up with those people or lost them through death. We have joined other religious organizations or left religion altogether.  And I could sit down to dinner with my friends and pick up the conversation where we left off. And that conversation would not be wasted on the weather.

I have been deeply in love several times since 1974. I believe that if my partner Jerry had not died in 2003, we would still be together. But none of those relationships has had the “staying power” of the love I have for those whom I have simply “decided” to love. Grant Cardone (of whom know nothing) explained the phenomenon more succinctly than I can.

Love is not a feeling, love is a decision you make and continue to make in order to create an experience that is described as love. Love is an action that if you don’t use you will lose. Love is like any communication, if you never send it out, you won’t get a return. Love is something you do, not something you feel because something happens to you (3).

The decision is made!

The decision is made!

I’m at the time in my life when I think about what my situation will be at the end. I don’t want to die alone (I’m not, by the way, planning on that in the immediate future). I hope I can remember when the time comes that, even if no one is beside my bed holding my hand, I am not alone. My family and Mary Kalen, Alison, Susan, Jeffrey, Lydia, and Susan will all be there (and Aaron, and Steuart, and. . . ).
(1) ”Sheesh” is a perfectly acceptable word:— interj. “informal  an exclamation of surprise or annoyance”
Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 2009. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.

(2) Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. New York: Bantam, 1963. (47)

(3) Cardone, Grant. “Love Is a Decsision.” The Blog. Huffington Post. 02/13/09. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.

About Harold Knight
Retired English prof, SMU. Old man. Musician. Passionate about justice, equality, freedom. Therefore, I am a fervent supporter of and advocate for the Palestinian People as they struggle to survive genocide. That also means, of course, I have no use for US 45.

7 Responses to Decisions, decisions, decisions.

  1. Touched by what you’ve written in so many ways. Thank you.

  2. bobritzema says:

    If love were not a decision, it wouldn’t have made any sense for Jesus to tell his disciples to love their neighbors as they did themselves. At their best, communities are exactly what you describe: groups of people who decide to love each other. I’m glad for you that the community you formed 40 years ago is still alive and vibrant.

  3. Mary Kalen Romjue says:

    Deciding to love? I really had not let that concept sink in before. Having rediscovered our friendship after way too many years, has left me with the knowledge that really good friends can touch bases again and “feel” that same warm happy feeling of the days that we shared were shared years ago. I am so fortunate to have shared those moments in time with you and your family. It is surely our “Quality World” as Glasser puts it.

    Thanks for the reminder that we all need that dear friend, now and throughout our lives.

    Mary Kalen

  4. Paul Frindt says:

    Hello Harold, good to hear your voice (and earlier to hear your playing again in videos):

    Synchronistically enough, I’ve been thinking about some of that stuff more than usual of late. At this point in my life I wholeheartedly agree that it is a decision to love, just as to believe is a decision. it’s a slippery word, ain’t it? A related issue is the distinction (also, I submit, a matter of choice) of loving vs falling in love. I remember Woody Allen saying, in defense of marrying his stepdaughter, that “the heart wants what it wants.” True, enough, but here the choice he’s making is to pretend there is no choice involved. And, of course, this is one of those “if I’d known then what I know now” deals.

    Anyway, just thinking. Thanks for being there with your beautiful brain in good working order. Lucky for me Alison has stayed connected.


  5. Curt Brasier says:

    I was a parishioner at Christ Church when Fr. John was there. He was my Priest, my friend and my teacher. I will always remember him fondly. He was a great man and I miss him deeply! We would occasionally sit in the sacristy discussing this or that while sipping scotch from votive glasses! The Easter Mass was always amazingly beautiful. So many great memories of such a great man!

  6. Terri D. says:

    I was raised in Christ Church and received my first communion from Father Olson. He was there for every significant family event including my father’s death in 1986 (the last time I saw him). He had planned to officiate at my wedding in the Washington DC area in 1989. He must have been resolute in his decision to love, for it has endured. Thank you for remembering him here.

  7. John E says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your remembrances of Jon Hart Olson. I was baptized and confirmed at St. Alban’s Westwood, went to high school in Orange County, then returned to west Los Angeles to attend UCLA. My wife and I met at the start of our freshman year on the St. Alban’s patio, thanks to the church’s very active UCLA campus ministry, which included a Sunday evening service-and-supper program for students, staff, and faculty. When we got married in 1973, we naturally chose our UCLA chaplain as officiant and one of our music professor friends, Malcolm Cole, as organist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: