The Choice Between Being and Having: Unraveling the Paradigm of Existence‍

In today’s society, the desire for material possessions, status, and influence greatly influences people’s actions. This has resulted in a consumeristic culture, where individuals link their value and sense of self to their possessions. Psychologist Erich Fromm introduced two ways of living that illustrate this concept: the ‘having’ mode and the ‘being’ mode. According to Fromm, ‘having’ refers to owning material possessions, while ‘being’ emphasizes living life to the fullest and fostering meaningful connections.

erich fromm and his book to have or to be

Unpacking the ‘Having’ and ‘Being’ Modes of Existence

The ‘Having’ Mode
The concept of ‘having’ is centered around obtaining, owning, and collecting. Those who live in this mode see life as a series of exchanges, with a focus on what they can gain or lose. Fromm suggests that this way of life is influenced by the modern capitalist society, which promotes constant consumption and the accumulation of riches.

In this mode, relationships are often seen as possessions, with individuals being treated as objects to be acquired. This results in a lack of genuine connections, as people are more likely to interact based on what they can gain.

The ‘Being’ Mode
In opposition, the mode of ‘being’ focuses on living life, creating meaningful connections, and participating in productive endeavors. Fromm proposes that this mode is distinguished by love, sharing, and active involvement in life. People who operate in this mode find fulfillment in their existence and connections with others, rather than in material possessions.

The ‘being’ mode promotes individuals to discover worth in their experiences and relationships. This can result in a more satisfying and contented life, without the constant desire to obtain and own.

The ‘having’ mode is seen as the root of consumerism, a phenomenon that is prevalent in our society. Its essence lies in the continuous desire for material possessions and services. This urge is often fueled by the advertising industry, which creates a perceived necessity for products that may not be truly necessary.

Consumerism as a Manifestation of the ‘Having’ Mode
Consumerism, as we understand it today, is arguably a manifestation of the ‘having’ mode. It’s a socio-economic phenomenon that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. The advertising industry plays a significant role in fueling this desire, often creating a perceived need for products that people might not genuinely need.

The Impact of Consumerism on Spirituality
In a society focused on consuming, spirituality can become entangled with materialism. Brands play a significant role in shaping a person’s sense of self, often dictating their wants and goals. As a result, spirituality has taken on a consumeristic aspect, where brands and tangible possessions are central to achieving fulfillment. Additionally, religion and spirituality have been commercialized, with religious symbols and rituals being used as advertising tactics. This perpetuates the consumerist mentality, resulting in a spiritual emptiness that individuals try to fill through consumption.

The impact of consumerism extends deeply into our daily lives, affecting our connections with others, our sense of self, and even our spiritual beliefs. The unrelenting drive for material possessions can result in feelings of discontent, loneliness, and perpetual restlessness. As a result of this consumer-driven society, brands have taken advantage by forming communities centered on their goods and services, causing a change in societal values where one’s success is measured by their material belongings.

The Effect of Consumerism on Discipleship
The practice of faith is also affected by a disposable mentality. Prioritizing possessions over personal and collective discipleship can impede spiritual development, as individuals become more preoccupied with material goods rather than spiritual advancement. The pursuit of consumption can result in unethical behaviors, such as exploiting labor and the environment, which goes against the values of many religious beliefs that promote empathy, fairness, and reverence for all living beings.

In his response to consumerism, Fromm suggests that transitioning from a mindset of ‘having’ to one of ‘being’ is crucial in combatting the negative impacts of consumerism. This includes redefining our connection with material possessions and placing greater emphasis on experiences and relationships.

In order to support this transition, Fromm proposes the development of a spiritual practice focused on ‘being’ rather than ‘having’. This type of spirituality highlights the intrinsic worth of every person and the interdependence of all living beings.

Being as Interiority and Having as Exteriority
The concepts of ‘having’ and ‘being’ offer a perspective for comprehending our connection with material possessions and our attitude towards living. Although our consumerist culture heavily favors the ‘having’ mode, adopting the ‘being’ mode can result in a more satisfying and purposeful existence.

Being and Having can also be interpreted dualistically as Inside and Outside, where the inner world matches Being while the outer world matches Having. Where one prevails, the other succumbs, and balancing these two opposing elements is a far from easy task.

The Role of Community
In the transformation from ‘having’ to ‘being’, community plays a significant part. Genuine communities cultivate connections founded on mutual regard, affection, and shared principles. These communities offer an alternative perspective to the consumerist society, encouraging a way of life that prioritizes experiences and relationships over material possessions.

The shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle necessitates a complete reconsideration of our values and priorities. It demands the development of a spiritual mindset that prioritizes relationships and shared experiences over material possessions. Additionally, it requires the formation of authentic communities that can challenge the dominant consumerist mindset.

In the end, deciding between ‘having’ and ‘being’ is essentially deciding between two distinct approaches to life. This decision holds great significance for our own happiness, our connections with others, and the overall state of our world.

After you have understood the difference between being and having, why not test your personality to learn more about your predisposition toward one or the other?