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Have or be - 40 heartfelt quotes by Erich Fromm


Possession and being are the two main ways of human existence, the predominance of one of which determines the differences in the individual characters of people and types of social character.

By being, I mean such a way of being, in which a person has nothing and does not want to have anything, but is happy, productively uses his abilities, is in union with the whole world.

Ownership orientation is a characteristic feature of the Western industrial society, in which the main meaning of life is in pursuit of money, fame, and power.

With the existence of the principle of possession, my attitude to the world is expressed in an effort to make it an object of possession and possession, in an effort to turn everything and everyone, including myself, into my own property.

As for being as a mode of existence, one should distinguish its two forms.One of them is the opposite of possession and means the love of life and true involvement in the world. Another form of being is the opposite of appearances, it refers to the true nature, the true reality of a person or thing, in contrast to a deceptive appearance.

Being implies a change, that is, being is becoming.

Consumption has inherent contradictory properties: on the one hand, it reduces the feeling of anxiety and anxiety, since what one possesses cannot be taken away from him; but, on the other hand, it forces it to consume more and more, since all consumption soon ceases to be satisfying.

Modern consumers can define themselves with the help of the following formula: I am what I possess and what I consume.

Being-remembered is the active reproduction of words, thoughts, visual images, pictures, music — that is, a specific fact that needs to be recalled is connected with many other related facts.

Possessing-oriented people rely on what they have, being-oriented people rely on what they are.

Power on the principle of being is based not only on the fact that an individual is competent to perform certain social functions, but equally on the very essence of a person who has reached a high level of development and integration.

Optimal knowledge according to the principle of being is to know more deeply, and according to the principle of possession it is to have more knowledge.

Belief according to the principle of being is, first of all, not a belief in certain ideas, but an inner orientation, a person’s attitude. It would be more correct to say that a person believes, and not that he has faith.

In reality, there is only an act of love. Loving is a form of productive activity. It involves the expression of interest and care, cognition, emotional response, expression of feelings, pleasure, and can be directed to a person, a tree, a picture, an idea. It excites and enhances the feeling of fullness of life. This is a process of self-renewal and self-enrichment.

If a person experiences love according to the principle of possession, then this means that he seeks to deprive the object of his “love” of freedom and keep it under control. Such love does not give life, but suppresses, destroys, chokes, kills it.

One of the main themes of the Old Testament - leave what you have, free yourself from all fetters: be!

Breaking out of the captivity of possession is the condition for all genuine activity. In the ethical system of Eckhart, the highest virtue is the state of productive inner activity, the prerequisite of which is overcoming all forms of adherence to one’s self and greedy aspirations.

Acquire, own and profit - these are the sacred and inalienable rights of the individual in an industrial society.

The nature of possession derives from the nature of private property. With this way of existence, the most important thing is the acquisition of property and my unlimited right to preserve everything that I acquired.

Possession refers to things, and things are stable and descriptive. Being is related to experience, and human experience is in principle impossible to describe.

The mode of being has as its prerequisites independence, freedom and the presence of a critical mind. Its main characteristic is activity not in the sense of external activity, employment, but in the sense of internal activity, productive use of its human potencies.

To be active is to let your abilities, talent, all the wealth of human talents that each person has been shown to manifest. It means to be renewed, to grow, to flow, to love, to break free from the walls of your isolated self, to have deep interest, to strive passionately for something, to give.

A blue glass appears blue when light passes through it, because it absorbs all the other colors and thus does not let them through. It means that we call the glass “blue” precisely because it does not delay the blue waves, that is, not on the basis of what it preserves, but on the basis of the fact that it passes through itself.

The only threat to my security when being installed on being is hidden in me: it is not a strong enough faith in life and my creative abilities, a tendency to regress; it is laziness inherent in me and the willingness to give others the right to control my fate.

In general, rivalry, antagonism and fear form the basis of relations between individuals in the mode of existence according to the principle of possession.

Joy is what we experience in the process of approaching the goal of becoming ourselves.

With an orientation toward possession, and therefore with an authoritarian structure, sin is disobedience and it is possible to get rid of it with the help of repentance -> punishment -> new submission.

With an orientation toward being, with a non-authoritarian structure, sin is alienation, and the emancipation of the mind, fullness of manifestation of love, unity, help to get rid of it.

As Epicurus said, death has nothing to do with us, for "when we are, then there is no death, and when death comes, we are no longer."

Being exists only here and now. Possession exists only in time - in the past, in the present and in the future.

With a focus on possession, we are tied to what we have accumulated in the past: to money, land, fame, social status, knowledge, children, memories.

The future is an anticipation of what will become the past.

The present is the point where the past meets the future, it is a station on the border of two times, connecting them and not qualitatively different from them.

Idleness, if not to consider the act of disobedience of time, is only an illusion of freedom, in fact it is only a conditional release from prison, whose name is “time”.

We are what we are devoted to, and what we are devoted to is what motivates our behavior.

The basis of industrial religion was a new social character. The essence of it is fear and submission to the powerful male power, the cultivation of guilt for disobedience, breaking the bonds of human solidarity due to the predominance of self-interest and mutual antagonism. In industrial religion "sacred" labor, property, profits, power.

I called this phenomenon a market character, because in this case a person feels himself as a commodity, his value not as “use value”, but as “exchange value”. The living being becomes a commodity in the "personal market".

The goal of a market nature is to fully adapt, in order to be necessary, to maintain the demand for oneself under all conditions prevailing in the market of personalities. Compared to, say, the people of the 19th century, individuals with a market character do not even have their own “I” on which they could rely, for their “I” is constantly changing in accordance with the principle “I am what you need me”.

People with a market nature can neither love nor hate.These “old-fashioned emotions” do not correspond to the structure of character, functioning almost entirely at the rational level and avoiding any feelings, both positive and negative, because they serve as an obstacle to the achievement of the main goal of the market - sale and exchange - or rather, to function in accordance with the logic of "megamachine", of which they are part.

People with a market character do not feel deep attachment to themselves or to others; absolutely everything is indifferent to them, but not because they are so selfish, but because their attitude towards themselves and others is so fragile.

The predominance of rational, manipulative thinking is inextricably linked with the atrophy of emotional life. And since emotions were not cultivated, were considered unnecessary and were viewed more as an obstacle to optimal functioning, they remained undeveloped and could not exceed the level of emotional development of the child. Therefore, persons with a market character are extremely naive in all that concerns the emotional side of life.

We cease to be masters of technology and, on the contrary, become its slaves,and technology, once a vital element of creation, turns to us with its other face, the face of the goddess of destruction, with which both men and women are eager to sacrifice themselves and their children.

There is a striking similarity between the ideas of Buddha, Eckhart, Marx and Schweitzer: they all share a strong demand to abandon the orientation to possession; insistence on complete independence; metaphysical skepticism; religiosity without faith in god; the requirement to be socially active in the spirit of caring for the person and human solidarity.

I believe that a person’s character may change under the following conditions:

1. We are suffering and aware of this;

2. We understand the causes of our suffering;

3. We understand that there is a path leading to liberation from this suffering;


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