“In the hopes of reaching the moon man fails to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.”
— Albert Schweitzer
Lately there has been a lot of talk around the reality of being a human being, not a human doing. The question is: why? And is this helpful? And what should our response or takeaway be?
To begin, let’s examine a baseline question:
Are we defined by who we are or what we do?
And are those two aspects necessarily mutually exclusive?
At the most fundamental level:
— Who we are: Beings
— What we do: Born, Live, Die
Who we are informs what we do, and as we build more and more personal narratives on top of our base-level existence, what we do begins to inform others of our individual identity. And that is where it starts to get sticky.
There is a danger in talking about these types of broad generalities, and it’s the danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. The danger of saying: because of this one unhelpful result, we must discard the entire construct of the idea as a whole. This is an important caveat when thinking through the idea of “identity”.
Identity is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual”. Identities are what create the discussion around the similarities and differences we possess as humans. Being able to distinguish who we are, how we operate, and what our strengths and weaknesses are — these are all aspects of what form our identity, and they are good things!
The danger is when we make these surface-level identities our foundational identity of who we are, trading the universal, objective identity given at birth for a man-made, subjective description often prescribed by culture or those around us.
Again, these identities are not negative in-and-of themselves, but they can become harmful when taken too far by others, or, more importantly, when taken too far by ourselves. This is the danger of identification, forgetting who we truly are — Human Beings.
There is a reason why we are called human beings and not human doings.
When you think about “being” and “doing”, there is a clear advantage on one side of the coin vs. the other. When we compare these two realities, it’s clear to see which side of the coin we should desire.
On one side: if we are human doings, we are not able to simply be.
In thinking about what a human doing infers, it reveals our existence is purely for the reason of doing - working, moving, taking action, performing, executing, etc. But what about the eight hours of sleep per day that our body needs to run optimally? If that doesn’t involve doing anything then we aren’t fulfilling our base, creational role.
On the other side: if we are human beings, we have the ability to both be AND do.
Doing does not entail being, but being encapsulates doing. Part of being is doing, strangely enough.
What’s the Point?
The benefit of this resurgence in emphasizing our creational identity as human beings helps us see the power and sway of culture.
Patrick McKeown in his book Oxygen Advantage wrote:
“We are conditioned to believe that in order to be productive and successful we must be constantly doing something. This belief, which forms the basis of modern society, is quite insane.”
The cultural message we hear and feel most, especially here in America, is: to be a good human you must do, and do A LOT. … To me, that’s just doo-doo.
But seriously, there is a reason why our bodies require sleep. There is a reason why rest has been programmed into our very beings. It serves as a daily reminder that we are not defined by what we do but rather by who we are - human beings.
Ultimately, the point of this all is to make a plea for presence: an awareness and attunement to the present moment in daily life.
“The present moment is the only time in which life truly unfolds” - Patrick McKeown
One of the definitions of “being” is: “the state or fact of existing”. This is what it means to be human — to exist. Existing is best done in the here and now, the present. Existing in the past (in what’s already transpired), or existing in the future (in our expectations and anticipation of what’s to come), are both of lesser value than being in the here and now.
Some Closing Thoughts / Reminders
Remember Who You Are
We have a shared humanity, meaning: we are all in this together! God has given us a shared existence and a parallel reality with our fellow humans. Each individual possess the same essence of what it means to be a part of humanity.
Understand Your Place
Being human means that we didn’t create ourselves, but rather we have been created. This same understanding can be seen with the sun. In observing the sun we quickly begin to realize that we, as individuals, are not the center of the universe, and the earth most certainly does not revolve around you or me!
Multi-Tasking Is A Half-Truth
Multitasking is partially true. We can juggle multiple things at once, but it is deferring our ability to fully engage with either of the balls we are juggling. To be fully present and embrace our existential role of being, we must strive to be 100% engaged with the present moment or task, which means multi-tasking as little as possible.
The Present Is The Only Moment You Control
What’s done is done and what’s to come is unknown, so be here in the now! The present moment is truly the only moment in the time-space continuum that is within your grasp or control. So let’s make this moment count.
Moments Are Like Glass
When you drop a rubber ball, it bounces back up at you. When you drop a metal can, it makes a lot of noise but it will likely be alright. When you drop a glass jar, it shatters. Moments shatter, they never come back. There is no greater motivation to live in the present, in the now, than the reality that you can’t get this moment back.
If you leave this post with anything, I hope you leave it with an understanding that:
BEING > Doing
You have worth given to you from God, and no one can take that identity away from you, regardless of how much you do. Yet “being” does not exclude doing, rather, doing flows out of being. So let’s keep them both in their rightful place and remember that our one job is simply: to be faithful.