Erich Fromm on: Two different modes of existence, being vs. having.

Having refers to things and things are fixed and describable. Being refers to experience, and human experience is in principle not describable. What is fully describable is our persona – the mask we each wear, the ego we present – for this persona is in itself a thing.

In contrast, the living human being is not a dead image and cannot be described like a thing. In fact, the living human being cannot be described at all. Indeed, much can be said about me, about my character, about my total orientation to life. This insightful knowledge can go very far in understanding and describing my own or another’s psychical structure. But the total me, my whole individuality, my suchness that is as unique as my fingerprints are, can never be fully understood. Only in the process of natural alive relatedness can the other and I overcome the barrier of separateness, inasmuch as we both participate in the dance of life.

The mode of being has at its prerequisite independence, freedom, and the presence of critical reason. Its fundamental characteristic is that of being active, not in the sense of outward activity, of busyness, but of inner activity, the productive use of our human powers. To be active means to give expression to one’s faculties, talents, to the wealth of human gifts with which – though in varying degrees – every human being is endowed. It means to renew oneself, to grow, to flow out, to love, to transcend the prison of one’s isolated ego, to be interested, to “list”, to give.

The being mode of existence means to be living, to be interested, to see things, to see people, to listen to people, to put oneself in the place of others, to put oneself in one’s own place, to make life interesting, to make something beautiful of life. 

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