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When we stop confusing "being" with "having", self-deception dissipates

In his book The Song of the Bird (which should be mandatory reading), Anthony De Mello tells the very short and beautiful story of the dialogue between a young husband and his wife. He says: "Someday we will be rich." And she replies: “We are rich already, dear. Someday we may have money.”

I invite readers to stop reading the commentary at this time and explore for themselves the possible meanings of that story. After that, continue reading our column.

I read the aforementioned book more than three decades ago and since then I have used countless times the dialogue between husband and wife as an example of the double meaning of "rich,"  both "having money" and "having experienced and continuing to experience lasting, positive interpersonal relationships.”

And on some occasions I have shared some ideas about the repetition of “someday” in the short dialogue, wondering if the first “someday” is equal to the second, and the passing of time and the understanding of the future varies from person to person. in person.

But it was only many years after having read and reread De Mello when I finally perceived the wisdom in the response of the young woman, who separated "being rich" from "having money." Or, to put it more generically, she separated "being" from "having" as ways of connecting with the world, or with reality, or with the universe (whatever you want to call it.)

It seems that she perceived that he believed that "being" something amounts to "having" something and she managed to dissipate that equivalence by keeping the "being" separated, but still connected, from "having", thus creating a hope for both of them which cannot be seen when he speaks, since he seems to speak with some pessimism or defeatism.

Obviously, different cultures respond in different ways to the differentiation between "being" and "having." For example, in Spanish you have your age ("Tengo cinco años "), while in English, you are your age ("I am five"). And the same happens, as an additional example, with hunger: "Tengo hambre " compared to "I am hungry."

It seems that culture and language lead us in one direction or another.

Regardless, when talking about this topic, we cannot fail to mention To Have or To Be?, by Erich Fromm (1976). Fromm explores not only the marked differences between one and another way of existing (both valid and necessary), but he also highlights that we frequently confuse "being" with "having" ("con-fuse", that is, fusing what was previously separated.)

This “fusing together” causes us to give priority to one or another way of existing or, worse, we will focus exclusively on one of those modes, denying or neglecting the other. Thus, we end up "being" what we are not and "having" what we do not need, without ever knowing who we are or what we need.

John Vervaeke (University of Toronto) aptly qualifies this modal confusion for what it is: nihilism. Nihilism is the basis of self-deception. And self-deception is contagious.

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