We become what we do

Friday , January 05, 2018 - 4:00 AM1 comment

D. LOUISE BROWN, special to the Standard-Examiner

Two things we can count on at the beginning of each new year are exceptionally competitive gym membership discounts and a sudden increase in ads for large storage containers. Both are designed to attract two of the largest groups of the new year’s resolution makers — those of us who resolve to make this the year we’re definitely going to lose weight, and those of us who resolve to finally bring some order to our homes.

Yes, we’re that predictable.

And why not. We stay up past midnight to cheer in the new year, seeing it as the passing of another era. The slate is figuratively wiped clean as that first day of January dawns, and so we resolve to do something that changes us for the better, something more than remembering to write 2018 on everything.

If we pay attention to those annual moments of resolve, we gradually begin to realize a basic pattern of our human nature: We become what we do. The habits and behaviors that take up our hours and days and months form us. We are products of our practices. So resolution time is a natural moment to consider what we devote our existence to — and why.

Three men constructing a cathedral were individually asked what they were doing. The first said, “I’m cutting stone.” The second said, “I’m mixing cement.” The third said, “I’m helping to build a cathedral for God.” All three were truthful. And all three were becoming what they were doing: a stonemason, a cement mixer and an insightful worshipper of God.

Depending on the day, even the moment, a mother of little children might answer the question, “So, what is it you do?” with “I have little kids. So I do laundry. And dishes. And cleaning. And cooking. But mostly laundry. Well, and cleaning. I wipe poopy bums and runny noses and messy mouths and lots of tears. I holler a lot. And I will be tired for at least the next 25 years because I will never get enough sleep until they’re all out of the house.”

But on a good day she might say, “I’m raising my three children to be wise, sensitive and sensible people. They are my purpose for this season of my life, and I love what I do.”

Either way, she becomes what she does — contented or not.

This becoming what we do is a powerful tool, one we can use to our advantage. Mother Teresa did. Wise as a fox, gentle as a dove, she moved through her world of service helping a leper and speaking to global councils with no change in her calm demeanor. She was a force for good because that’s what she did.

Sadly, this becoming what we do is powerful enough to destroy us. A close friend who’d been overweight for years finally kept her annual resolution to lose weight. She took to the gym, tracked her weight, ate wisely, and eventually became what she did: a slim, healthy person. But by then her goal had become her obsession, and she spun out of balance. She posted daily selfies of her workouts, her shrinking weight, her new clothes. Every word that came out of her was about losing weight — eventually not just her own, but also the need for weight loss in those around her. This did not endear her to former friends. Her greatest loss was her family. The cute photos she used to post of her family enjoying life gave way to ones of her in spandex at the gym. The sad outcome was she replaced her family with her fitness. She became what she did to the extent that she now lives her chosen lifestyle alone.

That is a powerful human tool, one that can advance us to improvement, or wreck us. Yet we usually don’t even recognize it. So instead of starting this new year with “I’m going to do this,” we could start with “I’m going to be this.” “I’m going to be a kinder mother,” rather than “I’m going to stop yelling at my kids.” “I’m going to be a more productive employee,” rather than “I’m going to do better at work.” “I’m going to be a more thoughtful neighbor,” rather than “I’m going to be nicer.”

It’s natural that once we resolve what we need to be, we’ll know what we need to do.

We are, after all, human beings, not human doings.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton.

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