I recently read a book called ‘The Art of Being’ by Eric Fromm. In this book Fromm maintains that there are many modes of living. He narrows and distills them down to just two: The “having” mode and the “being” mode. Here I will attempt a brief delineation of the two.
People who are orientated toward the having mode are ‘outward facing’ – and by this, I mean to say they look to material objects, accolades, distinctions, social prestige, capital as a means of qualifying their existence. They know nothing, or very little, about their inner self; the entire organisation of their existence is centred on having: to have the big detached house; to have the fancy car; to have the latest fashion; to have the esteem and admiration (the envy) of their peers; to have the high powered job; to have the perfect family. Our economic structure is set up in such a way as to make the range of possible ‘haves’ inexhaustible.
To these people there is only an external world – a world of things, objects, to be possessed or consumed. The concept of an inner world is alien to them – almost incomprehensible – and consequently they cannot conceive of an existence beyond the very narrow work-earn-consume having orientation.
To improve the self, one must work hard, stick at it and exercise great discipline. You are certainly not going to achieve a state fulfillment by following ten easy steps or by popping a pill. Self-improvement is a continual struggle which probably only ends when we do. ‘Another barrier to learning the art of being,’ Fromm asserts, ‘is the “no-effort, no pain” doctrine. People are convinced that everything, even the most difficult tasks, should be mastered without or with only little effort.
This, however, is the starter to the main course of Fromm’s cautionary lament. What he is really very passionate about are shams which exploit ancient spiritual and moralistic teachings, shams which commercialise, say, the teachings of the Buddha, Zen Practices, Mindfulness Meditation. The unscrupulous individuals that parasitically propagate these wise and wonderful teachings do so to make a quick buck. Because of this the essence of soul of the teaching is discarded whilst the surface techniques – which are often diluted further – are marketed and sold as a means of enhancing psychological/emotional/spiritual well-being. ‘The sham lies in the superficiality of the teaching,’ Fromm reminds us. Of course, no quick-fix in the long history of quick-fixes has ever worked, and whatever positive effects were experienced was only ever temporary – wearing off just in time for the next installment.
On our journey to 'being' we must develop the skills to better identify the Great Shams in society. Before we go to work on this little block of rock we must first understand the world we live in. Fromm tells his reader right from the beginning that there are NO quick-fixes in The Art of Being. The road to enlightenment is long and arduous and there’s no certainty that you will actually arrive at the desired destination.