Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The unbearable paralysis of being

You know this person. Maybe you are this person. She has a well-rehearsed critique of American society as too materialist, too consumerist, too rushed, too focused on Doing. We have to put time and energy into our relationships, into Being with our families and life partners, into thinking about our effect on the world and how we simply Are in the world. We have to contemplate the way we reach decisions and the values embodied in them. And so, to help keep this group functional, we need to spend time talking about Process.

Okay, you say, I can see that. We don’t want to be arguing with each other all the time, because we’ll never get anything done that way. Sure, let’s talk about process. Or Process, as you call it.

And then, imperceptibly at first, but more and more each meeting, she comes to dominate the agenda with her insistence that, no, we haven’t perfected our Process yet. We really really really need to devote more time to talking about Process.

And that’s the point at which progress on the group’s original mission grinds to a halt.

I think what’s going on here is that the person who insists Being is more important than Doing is afraid of Doing—for whatever underlying reason. Psychologists probably have a name for this condition. It is probably identified in DSM. And there’s probably an effective therapy, should its sufferers seek treatment. In any case, she sets Being in opposition to Doing, and we buy into that false dichotomy. We become frustrated victims of this particular form of passive aggression and get caught up in the paralysis ourselves.

But we’re wrong if we do that. The point is to Be while Doing. The admonition to be a mensch carries with it the unspoken admonition not to be a nebbish.

A set of blocks
One way this paralysis expresses itself—and this does not require a group context—is procrastination about writing. Another is procrastination about publishing that which is already written. Another—the way I run into this phenomenon most often—is finding excuses for missing a deadline. The idea that the stars must be in a perfect syzygy and the writer must be in harmony with the Universe before committing to action becomes the insurmountable barrier that prevents accomplishing the worthy goal of setting out one’s ideas on paper. There is always time for one more Yoga class, but somehow there is not enough time to write the next chapter.

Being while Doing is the key. Integrate those two concepts with each other and those blocks will melt into the pavement before your eyes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The point is to Be while Doing. The admonition to be a mensch carries with it the unspoken admonition not to be a nebbish."

Well said, my dear. Well said. Great post.