“I have a problem,” or “I am troubled?”
“I have insomnia,” or “I cannot sleep?”
In To Have or To BE?, the psychologist Erich Fromm describes the having and the being modes of existence and argues for the latter. Do we live in the realm of objects, to get them, to manage them, to secure them, to use them? Or do we live in the realm of experiences, to sense our surroundings, to relate to other, to understand ourselves?
Fromm published the book in 1976, but his analysis of society remains relevant for our contemporary life. “Because the society we live in is devoted to acquiring property and making a profit, we rarely see any evidence of the being mode of existence and most people see the having mode as the most natural mode of existence, even the only acceptable way of life. All of which makes it especially difficult for people to comprehend the nature of the being mode, and even to understand that having is only one possible orientation.” We have seen some of the havoc, such as the recent recession, this imbalance between the two modes could cause. This book reveals to us the other mode of living, the being mode, and helps us understand the arena in which we live and the challenges we have to overcome.
Fromm proposes that the new society would bring about the new Man and he listed such an individual’s twenty-one traits, including “willingness to give up all forms of having, in order to fully be.” So, he believes that once we remove the external corrupting factors, we can achieve such an ideal.
And I wonder whether he was in the having mode when he proposed such a solution.
Still, I recommend this book for the insight into one dimension of the human condition—the dynamics between having and being. This book lays out the landscape of our contemporary society along this axis, and helps us assess our mentality and way of life and navigate the obstacles between the two modes of living. And though Fromm’s new Man may seem utopian in light of our internal and external constraints, we can strive toward a balance between having and being, knowing the journey may be as important, if not more so, than the goal.