Category Archives: Becoming

Gifts Make Me Uncomfortable

My birthday was a little less than a week ago. I figure it’s a good time to talk about gifts. We give gifts for various occasions and no particular occasion at all.

I enjoy giving gifts. Seeing the joy and appreciation on a family member or friends face is fantastic. Giving anonymously feels good too, though, even when you’ll never know whether it was even appreciated.

So, given that I enjoy giving gifts, it’s odd how uncomfortable I am with receiving gifts. I know that the person giving me the gift likely gets the same kind of pleasure I do from the act of giving, but it doesn’t make it easier for me to accept gifts. And I’m not talking about any particular gift or any particular gift giver. It’s pretty consistent for most gifts.

I don’t know when it started or what did it. But nearly every time someone gives me something outside of an exchange, it makes me uncomfortable.

I know gift giving isn’t usually reciprocal, at least not on the occasions I have in mind. On my birthday, in this culture and my family traditions, I’m not expected to give gifts to guests. I receive birthday presents. But even on Christmas when it is usually expected to be a gift exchange, I’m uncomfortable receiving.

I can’t really explain the exact feelings. Sometimes I feel a little guilty when receiving a gift. Sometimes it’s because I feel like I should reciprocate, even when the occasion doesn’t call for it.

And sometimes it’s not so much guilt. I actually feel indebted. I know there’s no expectation in most of the cases. I still feel like I owe them some sort of debt. Sometimes even on Christmas when I have reciprocated, regardless of comparative monetary values.

It also makes me feel a little like the way I feel about asking for help. I don’t like to ask for help, even though I like helping people, and I know other people feel the same way about helping me. But I’m working on becoming better at asking for and accepting help.

I read a book on gratitude last year that was sort of an academic look at the history of gratitude in different cultures throughout history. In some cultures, gifts have been used to put another into your debt. Gifts have been used to signify power structures as well, with gifts flowing in either direction. And in other cultures gifts nearly always require reciprocation.

So perhaps it’s partially an inborn trait. Or if you accept the idea of genetic memory, maybe that explains at least some of it.

I just know that gifts have made me uncomfortable for a long time. But like I’ve been doing with asking for and accepting help, I’ve also been working on my feelings about accepting gifts.

They’re related too. Giving help is one kind of gift, and it’s given without expectations, beyond maybe gratitude. So as I get better at accepting help, I think I’ll get better at accepting gifts as well.

Looking Without Seeing

“I can’t find my glasses,” says the seemingly absentminded sitcom character. “They’re on top of your head,” says their levelheaded spouse/friend. It’s a common trope in tv and movies for a reason. I know I’ve been looking for things and not found them, even though I looked right at or past them. I’d imagine most people have had a similar experience.

Thoreau said, “Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray, i.e. we are not looking for it. So, in the largest sense, we find only the world we look for” [Journal, 2 July 1857]. The other day, I thought I was looking for my battery charger, all the while telling myself “I CAN’T find it.” How am I supposed to see something when I’ve convinced myself that I can’t?

He also said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see” [Journal, 5 August 1851]. I’ve looked right at things without actually seeing them. It’s frustrating, but not surprising.

Zig Ziglar used to have his audience do an exercise to illustrate the point. He tells people to describe their watches without looking at them. Most of the time, they couldn’t say much more than the brand and analog or digital; their own watch that’s on their wrist. What do each of the buttons say? Are there roman numerals or numbers? What’s at the 12-o’clock position? And so on. Next, he has them look at their watch to see how much detail they’ve missed with something that they likely look at many times each day. Last, he asks what time it was, and most people couldn’t say because they were too focused on everything else.

The only watch I wear is my gps watch, and only while I’m running. I look at it quite often while running —probably too often— but I still find myself having to look again right away because I didn’t see something that I wanted to know. Without looking, I also couldn’t tell you much about any text or markings on the bezel, even after I’ve looked at it probably thousands of times.

The reason was that even with all that looking, I wasn’t seeing. It was certainly all in my “visual ray”, but most of it was outside of my “intellectual ray” at the time. That’s not always a bad thing, though. If we were perfectly aware of everything within our field of view, it could quickly overwhelm the mind. So our minds have to try to decide what’s important, what’s worth actually noticing.

All we can try to do is to be more aware of what we’re looking at to truly see it.

Don’t Let Other People Decide How You Act

Earl Nightingale tells a story in “The Essence of Success” from Sydney Harris. Harris went to a newsstand with a friend. The vendor was rather unfriendly. Harris’ friend thanked him graciously as the vendor remained quiet and sullen. Harris asks about the vendor’s attitude, and his friend says he’s always like that. Harris asks, “Then why do you continue being so polite to him?” His friend replies, “Why should I let him decide how I’m going to act?”

Letting other people decide how you’re going to act, whatever form that takes, turns control of your life over to someone else, and you don’t know their motives. They’re probably not malevolent, but it’s unlikely that your interests and desires are at the top of their list.

We can take a few lessons from that question, or turned into a statement; don’t let other people decide how you act. First, we can take the particular example in the story. I’ve run into a similar situation at my local grocery store. There is one employee who never said anything other than maybe asking about bags unless I said something first. I always thought she was unfriendly, unhappy, and like she didn’t like her job. I usually left in a slightly worse mood than than when I entered.

Then I realized that an interaction between people isn’t one-sided. If I want something from a relationship with someone, even if it’s just the brief interaction between a customer and cashier once or twice a week, at least half of the outcome is due to my own actions, or inactions. The Golden Rule, treat others as you would like to be treated, is not just a reminder to not treat people badly. It also means that much of the responsibility of any relationship or interaction you care to have falls on your own shoulders. If you always rely on other people to initiate a conversation or take charge of a relationship, you’re going to be pretty lonely.

So I started asking how her day was and making small talk. Her demeanor seemed to improve. Maybe my original perception was a mistake. Or maybe she was mirroring my actions and portrayal towards her. Whatever it was, our interactions have definitely improved.

Another way to not let other people decide how you act has to do with social or cultural pressures. Rollo May said, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity.” Conformity, whether to advertisements, magazines, social media sites, news, or peer pressure, lets other people decide how you act. If you’re choosing whatever it is because you want it, that’s fine. But making choices to fit in is giving up control.

Liking what’s popular is different than deciding to like (or dislike) something because it’s popular. I regret conforming a couple times as a kid. It’s not so easy to resist external influences when you’re still trying to figure out who you are. Anyway, in the mid-90s, I decided that I didn’t like Nirvana, still one of my all-time favorite bands, anymore because of what some other guys said. Fortunately, that didn’t last long.

Neither of those examples are particularly important in the grand scheme of things. It can be a very powerful rule to live by, though, and just as powerful to ignore. Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” Not everyone wants their own business. Some people prefer to work for others. That’s fine, as long as it’s part of your plan, and your decision. Don’t work at a job you don’t like just because that’s what you’re expected to do. If you don’t like your job, look for something else. At the very least, it should be part of your plan for the future, whether it’s advancement at the same company, or as a stepping stone to something better elsewhere. Falling into someone else’s plan is letting them decide how you act, with possibly life changing consequences.

The lesson from the story of the unfriendly newsstand vendor really struck home with me. Don’t let other people decide how you act. I’ve spent the last couple years really trying to work on myself, become happier, figure out what I really want, and how to create the life that I want. Acting in my own interest is certainly part of that, and so is how I react to other people. I didn’t always realize that the way I react to other people, the media, news, etc. can play a big role in my overall well-being.

Becoming: Dynamic Possibilities

I was thinking about Being and Becoming today. I considered writing something new about it, but for now I’ll post the paper I wrote on the topic for my Junior Colloquium in Comparative History of Ideas back in August 2010.

I’m going to warn you, it’s about 2300 words long, and it definitely reads like a college paper. I was verbose and probably overly complicated some things. I don’t think I edited it back then either.



Becoming: Dynamic Possibilities

“The mind is never passive; it is perpetual activity, delicate, receptive, responsive to stimulus” (Whitehead 9). When I read this passage, I find it problematic in relation to the notion of Being as a basic expression of existence. How can there be “perpetual activity” in something so steady state as Being? And how can a seemingly fixed state, like Being, be stimulated? “A disembodied spirit, or pure mind, has its being out of time, since all that it is destined to think is fully in its being at any and every previous time” (Peirce 490). This may have been Peirce’s idea of the nature of an ens necesarium but it speaks to my argument. Being does not take into account the variable of time. It may only vary in a seemingly predictable manner, but it is change nonetheless. Becoming, however, accounts for change over time. I will use the capitalized Being and Becoming when I am addressing these specific concepts, but as such commonplace words, they will likely come up in their normal usage as well.

The dimensional difference between Being and Becoming is time. Phillip Thurtle defines time as “the perception that something else could have happened” and “the potential for change in the world” (256). Becoming is a dynamic process. We are in a constant cycle of always Becoming, never just Being. Being does not take into account the changes or movement involved in the passage of time. If time is possibility, without Becoming, the only possibility would be static Being. But, if there is such a thing as possibility and not a predetermined fate or destiny, there cannot be a stagnant Being, only the transitional Becoming.

There is an important distinction I must make. Becoming is neither positive nor negative, which is only a matter of subjective, qualitative reasoning.   It is derived from the entirety of possibility. And according to Bloch, “Possibility is not hurray-patriotism. The opposite is also in the possible. The hindering element is also the possible” (17). Becoming is construction and deconstruction, creation and annihilation, and everything in between. Becoming is a process, while Being is solely one of a binary of states with no in between. But entities are not binaries; they are analogs, always Becoming at any infinitesimal state of possibility in time. For these purposes, Becoming and Unbecoming are one and the same. The qualitative differences through time are inconsequential. It’s solely the fact that there are differences through time. Thurtle quotes Massumi thusly, “Becoming is directional rather than intentional” (234). It simply moves forward in time without any target.

In Invisibile Cities, Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan about his city of Fedora and how he should have two versions of it in his atlas. “The one contains what is accepted as necessary when it is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later, is possible no longer” (32-33). Unrealized possibilities never go through the lens of the present, never Becoming, and never reaching the past. But we can’t know which of those possibilities will actually Become by passing through that lens. Our common perceptions of the relative nature of time pose a problem. When I think of the passage of time, I think of three categories, the past, the present and the future. The real problem is the present in that it does not occupy a fixed point or span in time. It has moved through the entirety of the past and will continue Becoming through all actualized, future possibilities.

On that meeting of the present and the possible in the actual, “The new is always a historical category since it is always determined by historical forces, which both bring it about in social practice (including art) and make for new semantic meanings that crystallize the novum in human consciousnesses” (Suvin 80). Whichever possibility Becomes by passing through the present must be historical as it had a cause and will have an effect. Being is only possible in the present, but the present is transitory and fleeting, always between the past and future. Only specific possibilities become the present. All others never Becoming into existence. And the present, being transitory, as it Becomes a future possibility, is already relegated to the past whenever we become aware of it. So we are really not ever Beings in a conceivable present but in a continual state of Becoming between the present and future. Within our own time-spans, points of Being are only really possible in the past or a perception of what the past will eventually Become—future possibilities. In the words of Massumi the perceived present is really “pastnesses opening directly onto a future, but with no present to speak of” (30).

Here’s a short narrative example that should be familiar. You’re in a car driving on a highway. Ahead are all future possibilities, the closer they get the more distinct they become. There is something colorful on the side of the road ahead. You think it’s a flower, but it is still hard to tell much about it at this distance. As you get closer, it’s a tall, white flower. But until you are almost directly next to it, you can’t make out much more than what it possibly is. At that moment, you’ve experienced it as clearly as you ever will. It’s a daisy and it’s swaying in the wind as cars rush past. And you, too, quickly move past it. The present is continually changing and is really only perceived by the exact moment of having Become the past. The present continually marches forward into the possible.

Change and movement are the things that Becoming offers us in a way to understand dynamic existence. Being leaves no room for change, evolution (not necessarily in the Darwinian sense), or progress. There is no possibility of hope without the possibility of change. Bloch said, “Hope is not confidence. If it could not be disappointed, it would not be hope” (16). We can have hope about the possibilities to come, but the nature of the unknown quality of that change leaves a potential for disappointment. It is still change regardless of the disappointment or realization of hope.

The change of Becoming is “perpetual activity.” I’ll use Doing as an example, as it is one of the simplest forms of activity. Doing requires action, and action, by its nature, necessarily leads to change or movement. There can be no Doing in Being, as action requires a time-span, a beginning and end. It is only a property of Becoming; Being is limited to simply existing in an entity’s current state—an existential stalemate. It has come as far as it possibly can by simply existing. There is no action without time, and hence no change.

Since Becoming is not concerned with any qualitative concepts, nor with specific locations or times, the where or when, it is only concerned with the path and time-span, the only points being the beginning and end in both cases. Massumi writes in opposition to Zeno’s paradox about the path of an arrow that will theoretically never reach a target because it only travels in distances of half the total distance left. “A path is not composed of positions. It is nondecomposable: a dynamic unity. … The points or positions really appear retrospectively, working backward from the movement’s end. … The in-between positions are logical targets: possible endpoints” (6). Time is continuous. Our measurement of time can be broken down to infinitely smaller and smaller segments. And space is continuous as well, at least out as far as we have been able to observe. Accurate measure of “points” is only limited by our technology. The further our technology advances the more detailed we can be.

If we live in an expansionary universe, which scientific observation supports, there can be no stationary state for physical objects or beings. There is only movement; though it may be imperceptible due to the way we measure movement by change in location relative to other objects, rather than relative to the universe itself. The possibility is theorized that the universe may eventually reach an expansionary limit and slow to a halt or even reverse and contract. If it should contract, there will still be only movement. But if there happens to be the perfect balance between the expansion and gravity, causing it to stop, it becomes difficult to imagine what happens. Stellar objects have their own movement on top of the movement of the space that they occupy. This is a problem that I am unsure how to address, as there are also theories that a universal contraction or a static universe may have a profound effect on time itself. This is an example of a limit imposed by reality. But I can’t say whether it is a limit of my conceptual reality or one of actual reality.

Reality is the limiting factor for Becoming, but reality in the sense of the true nature of the universe, not any particular conception of reality. Becoming is open to possibility of what is considered real and what is not yet conceived of as real. Being only conceives of a current understanding of reality.

Coming back to Massumi and Zeno’s paradox, since there are no real points along a path of movement in time, but only a start and end, there are only two conceivable points of pure Being for all of the universe; the moment just before the big bang, before the universe’s Becoming, and the possible moment when, if the universe eventually collapses, it all comes back together.

I’ll now give some examples of Becoming. I’ll skip ahead from the big bang to the Becoming of stellar objects. Gasses coalesce and condense, forming stars, planets and other heavenly bodies. The stars go through life cycles eventually burning out having used up all of their fuel in a nuclear reaction. That nuclear reaction actually creates new, heavier elements. Every element in the universe was created either in the nuclear reaction of a burning star, or in many cases, the final spectacular explosion of dying stars. The elements are spread out to create new bodies. Eventually even our own solar system was formed, Becoming from the remnants of an unknowable number of stellar Becomings. Our sun is going through it’s own process of Becoming, as is the Earth. Life forms, plants, animals and even humans, are much easier to understand in terms of Becoming than many objects that we commonly think of as static or permanent. Rocks are some of the most permanent objects we know. But even they Become over time. Created by various geological phenomena, volcanic action, sedimentation, etc. But once created, they are not permanent. Sure we as humans can destroy them. But those same geological forces can continue the process of Becoming, possibly fusing rocks together, breaking them apart, or reshaping them. Weather can deteriorate them. Water can move them and roll them across each other, polishing or further deteriorating them. Ice can form in the smallest cracks and split huge rocks. Even the most seemingly permanent objects we observe change over time.

We can still, at least, think about Being as a possible state. But to refer to an entity as a Being diminishes its entire existence and entire time-span into a singular state without relation to time. If Being is possible, is non-Being or inexistence also possible? If Being were the only possible state, there would be no beginning or ending of Being and there could be neither cause nor effect to be discovered. Without Becoming there could be no transitional state from inexistence to Being. But, like I’ve already shown, that transitional states are actually a process. It can have conceptual Being as a perceived point in the past. The process is a path, which by Massumi’s statement against Zeno’s paradox, is only divisible into points after the fact.

I will concede Being as possible for one type of thing. That is, only the abstract; concepts, literature and other texts, history, laws of nature (whether discovered or not), can have Being.   They still must have an origination and hence a Becoming in order to come into existence. Some of them can change over time. And they can most definitely Become part of and influence Becoming in other things. But even Being of the abstract is fleeting as it requires the Becoming of a sentient existence to come into Being, or at the very least to be perceived as Being. I include perception here because I do not want to delve into the Becoming of the universe and all of existence itself as that is far beyond the scope of this paper. So by abstract, I mean created or discovered by human thought.

Whether we realize it or not, we use the abstracts constantly. Numbers are an abstract concept. While there are different numbering systems, they have their own being. In base-10, 1 is always the same. Each number has a finite existence, not in a sense of time, but in that they do not change. Mathematical facts are just that, facts. As long as the same system of numbers is used, mathematical operations have the same result. 1+2=3, always. But if you put numbers together, they have a sort of Becoming. Numbers can be used in the Becoming of other things. They can also be the stimulus to which Whitehead was speaking, as they excite our minds to new thoughts and creations.

In short, in order to account for the variation of time in existence within our universe, we must realize that there is no steady state and there are no singular points of Being possible. There is always Becoming as movement or change. Being is really only possible in the mind through abstraction. That is to say, within time, Being is purely an imagined state.


Works Cited

Bloch, Ernst. “Something’s Missing.” Utopian Function of Art and Literature. 1988.

Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Javonovich, Inc., 1974.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual. 2002.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God.” Collected Papers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphosis of Science Fiction. 1979.

Thurtle, Phillip. “The Poetics of Wandering.” Emergence of Genetic Rationality. 2008.

Whitehead, Alfred North. “Aims of Education.” 1929.