To Be, and not To Do

Infinite Leaders: "Live Mindfully, Lead Better"

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Somewhere in the last century, as manufacturers faced increasing competition, the need to differentiate lead to increasingly preposterous claims and assertions. Slowly language has been misappropriated, words have been misused, and messages have become garbled. The payload – its’ meaning -has been diluted, taken for granted, sometimes contradicted and sometimes outright and violated.

Think about the contents of your refrigerator…

From pasteurised milk and packaged salad mix to frozen vegetable packs and tv-dinners, the word “fresh” is hardly a appropriate descriptor for a product that has undergone some form of industrial process. The fruit juice labeled “squeezed daily”, or the bread “baked daily in grandma’s kitchen” may sound evocative of intangible attribute, but the reality is that a large factory can ill afford idle days.

But it is not just freshness. In the same way that everyday terms have been hijacked by advertising, and in perhaps more sinister way by politicians, some big words need to be brought back to their true essence, because they are about our essence as human beings.

Three of these big words are “respect”, “honesty” and “compassion”. I have always considered these as words that embody an attribute, as adjectives that describe a timeless, immutable quality about a person. It was with some surprise when I recently heard someone use the word “compassion” to describe their actions, in this case inferring that another person had been bestowed with “enough” compassion, and therefore they felt it was appropriate to withdraw any further compassion towards that person.

In a single breath, the word had ceased to define a quality of the giver to instead become the privilege of the receiver.

Two other things also happened in that instant.

First of all I felt dissapointed. Not for the recipient, but sad for the person administering the gesture. In one sentence they had gone from being someone who I believed to be genuinely compassionate, to someone who “did compassion”. Clearly no only did they “do compassion”, they also felt they had the authority to administer compassion – and withdraw it – as they saw fit.

Secondly, their trustworthyness was suddenly compromised – it had become conditional.

In an age when words are being increasingly misused, abused, and misconstrued, sometimes by accident, but more often with the deliberate intention of forcing misleading associations with a deeply significant idea or quality where clearly there was none, it is important that we protect our clarity and understanding of the basics.

Doing something that demands wholehearted acceptance, respect and non-judging openness from time to time at our convenience and branding ourselves respectful does not make us a respectful person. Ask yourself what sort of person are you in the time when you are critical and not respectful of others?

Telling the truth from time to time at our convenience and labeling it honesty does not make us an honest person. Ask yourself, what are you in the time when you are not practicing honesty?

Doing something kind for someone from time to time at our convenience and labeling it compassion does not make us compassionate. Ask yourself, what are you in the time when you are not being compassionate?

An respectful person always respects, regardless of who or what they are dealing with. An honest person will always speak the truth, regardless of who or what they are dealing with. A compassionate person will always be compassionate regardless of who or what they are dealing with. These three qualities are attributes of the giver, not privileges of the recipient.

Don’t do respect, honesty or compassion.

BE respectful. BE honest. BE compassionate.

Embody these, make them a fundamental part of who you are, instead of just doing these as a momentary public gesture that is conditional on you assumption of the worthiness of others.

One thought on “To Be, and not To Do”

  1. Nicely said Winfried. And well packaged. It prompts me to wonder what else I am “Doing” that I might rather be “Being”. I might for example Become, no why wait, Be, right now, an embodiment of Love, Truth, Justice, Compassion, Caring, Generosity, Non-Judgement, and a perhaps a perpetual background of silent and still discernment, all the while. Perhaps a mistake, or rather confusion, I might make here is to object by stating that different situations require different tactics. This is true enough of course, but I suspect that the human “Capacities” which we’re engaging with in this conversation are potentially so much more than mere tactics. They may however prove to be strategically beneficial for all. I agree with your observation. Indeed I suspect that it is these very capacities that we are all now called upon to embody in order to effect a necessary and radical shift for our collective future; a shift necessary to take us forward into the next level of life, vitality and élan that awaits each and all.
    Erich Fromm speaks eloquently in this space in his short book “To Have or to Be”. The powerful take away that I took from Fromm’s approach is worth mentioning here: Unlike what we have, how we choose to Be, cannot be taken away from us. It is a choice that I/we and I/we alone are empowered to make; not withstanding certain confronting situations which might be a distraction from this truth. Hmmm. Thanks for the conversation Winfried!

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