Tuesday, July 13, 2010

DO-ing and BE-ing

I’ve been pondering about doing & being after reading Faith’s first blog on Stillness, and the two offshoot posts that followed, from her & Teflon. As I commented already, to identify which is driving what was a very useful distinction for me. We all call ourselves Human BE-ings, but in today’s action-oriented society, we’re in actuality Human DO-ings. We tend to label people by their occupation (now, Teflon stands out because he defies that easy labeling by virtue of the wide variety of things he does); why, to a large extent we define ourselves by our primary occupation – I’m an engineer, he’s a doctor, she’s a teacher, etc. It takes great self-awareness to step out of the role and see oneself as a human being who happens to have chosen (say) engineering to earn a livelihood, and could choose another profession any time.

When getting to know somebody new, we are fairly quick to get to the question: “So, what do you DO?” Technically, one could produce a long answer that would be both accurate and enlightening: “A number of things: I read (mainly non-fiction), play tennis, run a home intervention program for my autistic son, work as an engineer, blog occasionally on beliefs and happiness, etc”. But we all know that question is really “What do you do for a living?”

Of course, we begin conversations with “How ARE you?” but even that question has morphed into “How’re you doing?”, or in England, “How do you do?” It is invariably perfunctory, and has completely lost its original being-oriented intent.

Wouldn’t it be fun to ask questions that inquire into what the person is BE-ing? Imagine asking “What kind of person are you being today?”, or “How are you BE-ing about life?”. Hmmm... I think I'll ask my boys that today, instead of my usual "what did you do today?".

What other questions can you think of that reveal a person’s BE-ing? How would YOU answer? Adventurous? Excited? Energized? Cautious? Playing it safe? Bored? Tired?

Have fun BE-ing today!


  1. Sree, I think the question would be a, "Who are you?"

    Your post has really got me thinking. My first thought is that being without doing is something like the tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it. I'm not sure that we are in the absence of doing.

    I agree with you that we tend to associate who we are with our occupations or past times. To some extent, it's true, but it's incomplete or lacks depth. How we spend of our lives tells us a lot about who we are. However, whe we talks about categories (engineer, musician, doctor, marketeer), we stop short.

    Why are you an engineer, a nurse, a teacher, a painter? Do you love it? Hate it? Take it or leave it? What would you do if you weren't doing what you're doing?

    Maybe it's not a question of doing versus being, but instead ao question of generalization and assumption versus specificity and digging,

    Not sure , but definitely thinking about it. Thank you !

  2. Tef: excellent points, as usual; peeling back layers of the onion.

    “Who are you?” is a huge question, maybe the mother of all questions. I work on that off and on, and am not even near coherently explaining where I’m at with that one, but would welcome joint exploration of it.

    Being without doing: I see your point from two perspectives:
    - If we take the viewpoint that we’re never really doing nothing, then there’s no such thing as “without doing”.
    - If Doing is simply the way Being manifests itself - makes itself visible to an external observer.

    You write “I’m not sure that we are in the absence of doing”. I can think of two ways to explore that:
    - using loose definitions of the two terms. If we think of Doing as more explicit actions clearly visible to others, and Being as the internal thought processes that guide those actions, we could say that Being is the internal state that drives external actions. For instance, a parent who’s being calm and loving, and another parent who’s stressed-out and angry have two different states of Being, which lead to certain interactions with their children (the Doing). So almost by definition, the Being comes before the Doing, in either macro or micro time sense.
    - If we use more rigorous definitions of Being & Doing, I’m not so clear. Good old Descartes said “I think, therefore I am”, which at first look (considering thinking an example of Doing) seems to be the same as your tree falling in the forest – manifestation to an external observer is what counts. However, if I’m the only observer of the thought, who is the thinker?

    This has got to be Philosophy 101, so hopefully somebody more familiar with this material can enlighten me.

    Re your comment on generalization vs specificity: I guess I was referring more to how people define *them*selves by their occupation, and thereby severely limit the range of what they do. For instance, I’m only beginning to be aware of how many avenues of activity I dismiss simply because “hey, I *am* an engineer; engineers don’t do music/art/literature/etc; so I won’t *do* that”.

  3. LOL, I have been to buzy lately to be following the blogs, but my first inclination as I read this blog was, to ask "Who are you?" knowing that it would often been answered (at least in my country) with "what do you I do for a living" - but it still leaves it open for the person who'll answer.

    Having worked with english men I am very aware that there is only one acceptable answer to "how do you do?"

  4. On Descartes:
    I would translate I think therefore I am into "I do therefore I exist".

    To me being versus doing is more related to wheter I define myself by the RESULT of what I'm doing which is not related to existing or not existing but to your or if I have a clear definition of me regardless of my actions (my doing) .


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