Intellectual Self Defence

Brains are delicate things…

Taking Action versus Just Doing Stuff

Thanks to Johnnie Moore for highlighting this from Eric Fromm‘s “The Art of Loving.” It reminds me of that old meditation slogan “Don’t just do something, sit there!!”

If we say love is an activity, we face a difficulty which lies in the ambiguous meaning of the word ‘activity.’ By ‘activity,’ in the modern sense of the word, is usually meant an action which brings about a change in an existing situation by means of an expenditure of energy. Thus a man is considered active if he does business, studies medicine, works on an endless belt, builds a table, or is engaged in sports. Common to all these activities is that they are directed toward an outside goal to be achieved. What is not taken into account is the motivation of activity. Take for instance a man driven to incessant work by a sense of deep insecurity and loneliness; or another one driven by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases the person is the slave of a passion, and his activity is in reality a ‘passivity’ because he is driven; he is the sufferer, not the ‘actor.’ On the other hand, a man sitting quiet and contemplating, with no purpose or aim except that of experiencing himself and his oneness with the world, is considered to be ‘passive,’ because he is not ‘doing’ anything. In reality, this attitude of concentrated meditation is the highest activity there is, an activity of the soul, which is possible only under the condition of inner freedom and independence….

One concept of activity, the modern one, refers to the use of energy for external aims; the other concept of activity refers to the use of man’s inherent powers, regardless of whether any external change is brought about. The latter concept of activity has been formulated most clearly by Spinoza. He differentiates among the affects between active and passive affects, ‘actions’ and ‘passions.’ In the exercise of active affect, man is free, he is the master of his affect; in the exercise of a passive affect, man is driven, the object of motivations of which he himself is not aware. Thus Spinoza arrives at the statement that virtue and power are one and the same. Envy, jealousy, ambition, any kind of greed are passions; love is an action, the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion.

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