Recently I came across a very interesting book by American author John Bradshaw. One of the quotes which really grabbed my attention was “we are human BEings and not human DOings”. This led me to reflect upon how important it is to keep our priorities in order and on the value of slowing down every so often, to evaluate whatever it is we are doing, and where our way of living is leading us.
Most of us would tend to argue that it’s one thing to try and keep our priorities right when it comes to juggling every aspect of our lives, and another to actually do so. It’s easier said than done! Indeed, for many people, life is one huge balancing act between personal and professional life, which can be very stressful. Sure, it’s not easy, but it’s definitely essential, to sit down once in a while and take stock – emotionally, physically and spiritually – to see where we are going, and as Bradshaw states, “to be grounded in our ‘why’”. This is one of the biggest factors in changing from a human DOing to a human BEing. This weighing-in is a deep and important consideration because it renders us accountable for our own decisions and consequently, our actions. In reality, it’s quite a simple process – an addition and subtraction – of including what we want and deleting anything which is superfluous in our lives. Whatever it is we add, or whatever we subtract, can make all the difference to finding personal happiness and discovering our life’s purpose.
But what exactly does it mean to be happy? Many people in the world live under the assumption that they are happy if they are fulfilled, that is to say that, if their desires and needs are met, and they are not wanting of anything. Some years back, when I was reading for a degree in theology, one of the obligatory study units was ‘Ancient Philosophy’. That’s when I discovered Aristotle. In his Nicomachean Ethics, he speaks of “eudaimonia”, which is a Greek work commonly translated as “happiness” or “welfare”. The term “human flourishing” has been proposed as a more accurate translation. According to Aristotle, everyone agrees that “eudaimonia” is the highest ‘good’ for human beings, but in order to answer the question on how to achieve it, it’s necessary to bring in another important concept in ancient philosophy: “areté”, usually translated from the Greek into English as “virtue”. The sense of virtue which “areté” connotes is that any activity which one performs must be done properly (right).
In the case of the ancient philosophers, the concept of virtue was not understood in the moral sense, as we are inclined to understand it today. Yet, Greek philosophy does speak of cardinal virtues, such as temperance, prudence, courage and justice, which were repackaged by Church heavyweights such as St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, and are consequently connected to the Christian faith. Living these virtues helps us to be more aware of the people around us and to reach out to them when we can. Living these virtues helps us to see the beauty of nature and the world around us; to care for ourselves and for others as the precious gifts that we were created to be. But there other are different virtues, as well. In fact, there is quite a range to choose from, for example, being trustworthy, friendly, kind. Why, even good humour is a virtue!
Leading a virtuous life is for all those people who want to be true to themselves. I certainly agree with the ancients that whatever is worth doing, is worth doing right, but only if this adds meaning and value to one’s life. ‘Doing’ for the sake of doing is not conducive to ‘being’. Being human does not mean just doing things; it means looking to be who we really are, who we were created to be. And this includes taking charge of all of our specific and general thoughts, plans, goals, desires, to improve and change for the better. The choices we make create our destiny and direction in life.
The difference between ‘doing’ human and ‘being’ human starts with setting the right priorities and the only way to that is to slow down, evaluate, create new habits and keep focused on the ‘why’, grounding oneself in the things that really matter. Are you ready to take the challenge?