I write to you today of a very strange varietal of creature—not quite a monster, though they can develop into them sometimes, one that was once rare but I seem to encounter quite frequently. You can find them in all manners of biomes, from the darkest caves to the brightest mountains, and identify them by their scurrying attitude and constant need to be somewhere that they are not. I am speaking, of course, of human doings.
In my research on the subject, I found that human doings begin their life as human beings. They start out as the rest of us do: with existence thrust upon them, unexpectedly waking up one day aware that they live in a big open world where there are all sorts of things to do. It’s a world of adventure and potential. Sure, there are some lousy bits, the scraped knees and black eyes and broken people, but by and whole the world is full to the brim of potential and beauty and stuff that you can do.
But then all that potential starts being eaten away. A 7 day week full of opportunity starts being taken over by all the things you have to do. A world where a stick could be at once a sword, wand, and staff bows to the world of grocery shopping, laundry, and taking out the trash. There’s work to be done. Chores to be managed. Places to be cleaned. PTA meetings to be attended. The death by a thousand cuts that bends the back of any human being until they’re entire world has turned them into something else—a human doing.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to do. Quests to take, dragons to slay, and yes—laundry is still one of the more heroic necessities. But in the thick of all that doing, in the endless cycle of preparing for an unnamed thing, are there things that require no external justification? As Joseph Pieper asked, “is there a sphere of human activity, one might even say of human existence, that does not need to be justified by inclusion in a five-year plan and its technical organization?”
That’s the difference between human being and human doing: not the cleanliness of the laundry or the state of the fridge. People become human doings when they get so caught up in routine of activities necessary for work that they forget they were human long before they even learned what work was. They forget that no amount of ordinary work can create or destroy the best things human beings have to offer—the appreciation of beauty, the sublime, the tiny little moments of quiet that define who we are.
So even if it’s only for a moment, while you read these words on the page, will you take a deep breath with me? Because if you do—even for a second—then today, you have chosen human being over human doing.
May the road rise up to meet you!