Friday, July 16, 2010

Who Is You?

In DO-ing and BE-ing, Sree raised the point that we human BE-ings may better be described as human DO-ings, i.e., we tend to define ourselves through activity. Sree pointed out that many of us define ourselves and others by occupation,
When getting to know somebody new, we are fairly quick to get to the question: "So, what do you DO?"
He went on to say that even common questions regarding current state of being have evolved to inquiries regarding activity:
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?”
As I thought about Sree's blog, it occurred to me that the question would be: Who are you? However, as we've discussed the topic I've come to several (interim) conclusions.

You Is What You Do
Let's begin with the notion that each of us is in fact the net sum of what we do: that there are no significant or meaningful aspects of who you are that are not defined by your actions.

To make this work, we're going to broaden the definition of doing beyond making a living and taking care of the kids and going to church. We're going to include everything from basic bodily functions to attitude and emotion to thought and contemplation (I think therefor I am), things that we would normally associate with states of being, not deliberate action. For example, we tend to associate attitudes and emotions with with states of being, not action: I AM happy. I AM in love. I AM disgusted. I AM sorry. Instead, we're going to view all these as actions: I rejoice. I love. I hate. I regret.

If we place everything from breathing to feeling sad in the doing category and if who I am is the net sum of what I do, then there are (at least) two points of discernment that we want to address: 1) observable versus non-observable doing, and 2) deliberate, voluntary doing versus accidental, involuntary doing.

Sree points out:
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.
I Meant to Be That
I agree with Sree's conclusion although I might get there a bit differently. I would suggest that that thinking is doing (whether or not we voice our thoughts). I would go so far as to say there are no involuntary or accidental thoughts, that every thought is deliberate and intentional. One might respond saying, "Hey, there are these times where these crazy thoughts or ideas just pop into my head. I didn't intend to think them, they just showed up!"

However, by viewing thoughts as involuntary, we cut off avenues of exploration and render ourselves victims to them. When we view even the craziest, most out-of-the-blue thought as intentional, we empower ourselves to ask, "Why did I think that?" When we don't, we wonder "What happened to me?" or "What caused me to think that?" Of course, none of these views is true, they're simply ways of looking at thinking. However, the first way of viewing it puts you in the driver's seat.

It's just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from why did I think that to why did I feel that. When we similarly view emotion and attitude as doing, we open empowered avenues of exploration that are cut off when we view them otherwise.

So, all actions, all doing is deliberate (even the so-called involuntary ones). Further, whether internal or external, whether or not observed by others, we'll go with the tree having made a noise: doing includes activity never witnessed.

Momentary You
So, if everything from breathing and sleeping to feeling and thinking to working and playing is something you do deliberately, then how do you answer the question: who are you? In this case, the answer is: who I am is just a snapshot of everything I'm doing in the moment, a single frame plucked from a streaming video. If in the moment you are doing love and happiness, then you're a loving and happy person. If in the moment, you are doing anger and resentment, then you're a angry and resentful person. One moment you're a mother, the next an engineer, the next an actress.

The beauty of thinking about who you are in this manner is that nothing you've done so far has any bearing on who you are right now (unless you decide for it to). There's no residual state of being based upon past action; instead, you can instantaneously become whoever you want to be by changing what you're doing.

In computer science, systems that behave in this manner are said to be stateless. What happened previously doesn't matter; each time you use the system, it's as though you've hit the reset button.

Viewing who you are as stateless is simultaneously empowering and frightening. Most of us not only define who we are by what we do, but also by what we've done. What we've done is always a mixed bag of items we feel good about and ones that we don't. Whether proud or ashamed of past actions and accomplishments, defining who you are in terms of what you've done is limiting; it blinds you to and cuts you off from the vast majority of options available to you at any time.

What if you could wake up tomorrow morning and all your past accomplishments and failings simply didn't exist? They never occurred. What if who you are has nothing to do with who you've been, even who you were just a moment ago? What if you could completely change who you are by changing what you do? What if everything you do is voluntary and deliberate?

Then, I think the question would be: who will you be?

Happy Friday!


  1. Hmm..... my brain cells haven't exercised this much in a long time. Thanks, Teflon!

  2. Tef, I've been thinking about your post over the past few days, and I'm still not seeing the benefit of throwing out Being and putting everything in the Doing bucket. And also, without knowing computer science, stateless seems like a misnomer to me, since I see state as simply a set of parameter values that characterize a situation. So it's not that I don't have a state; it's just that my state at any moment is totally independent of my state at any previous (or future) moment.

    Is your opposition to using Being coming from its seeming permanence, its apparent dependence on past actions (and states)? I realize that's how it's commonly used, but once we adopt the Stimulus-Belief-Response model we also accept that we freely choose our beliefs, which makes Being non-deterministic. In fact, a human being could simply be viewed as the collection of beliefs a particular brain uses. (This then begs an inquiry into the space from where these beliefs are plucked and in which they live, but that's a whole 'nother thing).

    (There has got to be a better term to describe something that can be generated afresh at every instant, without regard to what has gone before. Time-independent? Non-history-dependent?)

    Fun stuff.

  3. Actually, on re-reading my comment, I see that stateless would be appropriate if everything is Doing.

    I guess I personally see a benefit in using Being for the 'internal' actions - thoughts, feelings, etc. and and then linking that to the 'external' actions of Doing. I think it's the element of choice in our beliefs that's the source of power.


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