To have or to be or not to be

August 5, 2008 at 9:17 am Leave a comment

Mused upon by Tom:

I’ve just finished a great little book by Eric Fromm called ‘To have or to be‘. It examines the ‘having’ mode of living, as opposed to the ‘being’ mode and is a ‘manifesto for a new social and psychological revolution to save our threatened planet’. So many of his arguments rang true.

As Fromm rightly states, when we in the West see a beautiful flower, our inclination is to want to have that flower, so we pick it. In the East, there is a desire to enjoy the flower as it is, to contemplate it’s beauty. (Please excuse the geographical stereotypes – his example).

If we can slowly shift societal desires from this having mentality towards one of being, he believes we’ll solve many of the environmental problems that we face. Imagine a world where people buy goods and services on the basis of quality and utility, rather than brand and status… where advertising doesn’t make an impact because we make rational choices, rather than irrational, when it comes to consuming… where people consume (where they have to) in order to ‘be’ better rather than ‘have’ more.

Earlier this year I made an effort not to buy anything new for a few months. It was even more pleasurable than consumption and made me realise the way in which advertising subliminally bullies you on a daily basis. It was only when I couldn’t buy that I could see clearly the continual pulls this carefully crafted ‘having’ mode of consumption had on me. I was freed from the pursuit of new and focusing instead on enjoying the things I already had – I’d highly recommend trying it!

Fromm finishes his book with a rallying cry for a ‘New Man’. Here are a few of his (c.1976) calls to action:

  • Willingness to give up having in order to be.
  • Security, sense of identity, and confidence based on faith in what one is, on one’s need for relatedness, interest, love, solidarity with the world, instead of one’s desire to have, to possess, to control and thus become the slave of possessions.
  • Being fully present where one is.

So how and when can we start to ‘be’: that is the question!


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