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Life Arts

The Last War, Having vs Being

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Once I taught at the University of Hawaiʻi. The university saw itself as a center of modern learning for all the Pacific and the Pacific Rim as we said then. We encouraged and made it possible for a large number of students from many countries to attend. I grew up in an indigenous, non-western, culture and was increasingly aware of a subtle difference in the thinking of western and non-western students in my classes. I could not quite find the words to express the difference, so I did a little survey. I knew how surveys ought to be done: careful sampling, good questions, tight recording, complex statistics. But I thought I must begin by asking questions. On the wide steps of the building where many students and faculty had lunch I asked a simple question. I was careful to choose white and non-white, male and female, young and old. My question was: "How do you see yourself ten years from now?" To a few I had to explain that "from now" means in the future. I recorded the answers and made notes. My admittedly unscientific sample was 212 people.

When I began to study the answers something immediately struck me, but it took me a few days to realize what it was. Almost all (except one) "white" people, I assumed to be culturally western, phrased their answer using the verb to have. "I see myself having a good career; having a wife and two children, having a big house, having money." 

Almost all non-white people gave answers using the verb to be. "I see myself being a successful doctor, being happily married, being respected in my community, being free to travel." Of the 212 only four people used both verbs, "being the husband of a wonderful woman and having three children, being a happy nurse and having confidence.""

I knew of course that this was not scientific but I could not get this clear   difference out of my head. Thinking of yourself as having , or thinking of yourself as being, is a very different mind set. It changes how we think of ourselves, and how we think of ourselves in relation to the world. An existential difference in thinking.

This war is being fought as if it is about having. It is not. There is only one humankind, not two. This war has many battle grounds, many faces, but it is one war. Haves against have-nots. All of us know that our problem is jobs. But government is caught in the trap of thinking in terms of having. Do they really believe we have a debt crisis? That we have too large a government? Sure, it could be much more efficient, but it is supposed to represent us. 

Our lack of jobs affects our being. We need work so that we can live decent lives. I am convinced that our rebellion is about the fact that we are not heard, not listened to. Every poll I have read in the last year shows that up to 80%, four out of five Americans, want the rich to pay their share. 70% wants us to get out of the many wars we are fighting. Almost everybody knows that these wars have not made us safer, on the contrary we keep making more enemies. But the people who are supposed to represent us do not listen to us. We strongly suspect that they are the voices of the haves. A president who is a great orator, and obviously smart, trusts his financial advisors (bankers) more than us. Our rage is not about having, but about being, being ignored, being pushed down, being denied life itself.

London is burning. The Middle East is in an uproar of uprisings. In India, Indonesia, Africa, South America, people are objecting, rebelling, being shot at. Doctors are persecuted for helping people wounded by their own government. The first such uprising, in Tunisia, was so unexpected that it succeeded rapidly. The second, in Egypt, took weeks and now flares up again. Now all the dictators, the haves, now use whatever power they can buy to suppress, oppress and kill. Our so-called foreign policies cannot decide who to support and who to condemn. We have an important Navy base on Bahrain, so that is totally out of the Media. Syria, an enemy of Israel, we can be stern with it. Politics has become all about having, bought by the haves, ignoring the have-nots. Is it any wonder we rebel?

We are told to think we must accept the  narrative of the haves. But if we do we have already lost, because pretty soon the haves will have it all. They can buy all the weapons there are.

But our indignation, revulsion, uprising, is not about having, it is about being. We fight for being human, for being heard, for being acknowledged as humans equal to all other humans. It is not even about what we believe. It is about who we know we are, beings.

When we are clear that this war is about being then we can win. Being is Life itself. For almost all the time of our being human on this planet we lived without having. "Owning", was not even a concept until a few thousand years ago, the very end years of our 100,000 or more years of being homo sapiens.

Let us be clear that it is about being, not having. We need to be respected as being, we need to be heard, we are just as important as those who have it all. Life cannot be owned,

We learned having from the haves; we learned being from nature. Letʻs learn from nature again. Plants and animals live in deserts, on the slopes of Mount Everest, on tiny islands, in the world ocean, because Life, being, trumps having all the time everywhere. We donʻt need to have much to be. Life is being -- having is an illusion.

 

robert wolff lives on the Big Island, called Hawai'i
his website is wildwolff.com

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That 'last war' is being played out right now in a... by R. A. Landbeck on Sunday, Aug 14, 2011 at 7:56:30 AM
I have phrased what you said as a battle between s... by Philip Pease on Monday, Aug 15, 2011 at 10:03:28 AM
to "stupidity." ... by Daniel Geery on Monday, Aug 15, 2011 at 11:18:55 AM