ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

"To Be and How To Be"

Updated on June 11, 2011

We all live for a while. One way or another, we all do. Some of us choose for how long while some of us do not have that choice. Nonetheless we all live (for some time). You and I and Joe and all others, live. We “think” therefore we are (I have Descartes in mind here). And by no means am I trying to imply that living is not a difficult task. Yet, if we understand what it means to be human and if we were to stop and say: “What do I know?” then, one may better understand what “being” means/is.

But that is only half of the problem, for “to be” is certainly not enough. “To be” implies a certain way, form or style. One cannot just “be”. One must be in a way or another. Thus, “how to be” is just as important as “being”. And if we were to ask ourselves: “What must I do” and “What do I wish” then, perhaps we may also find a “moral ground” – “how to be”.

To begin with, our human condition is not completely under our control. We are limited in all aspects. Although born free, we are ultimately free within the boundaries of Life. There may be physical and mental limits: one may not walk forever without resting and I am not sure if one can ever know everything during a life-time. Thus, we are not perfect. As Pascal acknowledged, “our intelligence” is “limited in all aspects”.

Our condition is further influenced by “the things we inherit from our parents” (1). The human condition as a character trait is literally passed on through generations through means of socialization. Our society, as a greater example of an individual’s condition is not created by us; it has been made for us. All that is good or bad, values and morals, are within us; it is almost like the passing of human genes. “We are” as “they were” a long time ago. That metaphysical faith that Nietzsche wrote about, is instilled in us. It is almost like a defect, or a hunch that we are born with, although there are possibilities.

Ibsen, in Ghosts, wrote that “we’re all haunted in this world … by the innumerable old prejudices and beliefs … the ghosts of the dead past …” (2). And Dostoyevsky wrote in “Notes from the Underground” that “There are things … of such things.” (3). Perhaps, we are really born guilty as most Christians would agree. But that is not of our own choosing, as someone once said: “all human beings have clay feet” and ultimately we are the “weakest in nature” and “a drop of water is enough” (4) to kill us. This is one of our human conditions, a condition which we come to be in or with.

We do not know much either. And if that was not bad enough then, the fact that we are generally afraid of the unknown (Hamlet spoke of the fear of the unknown in terms of what follows life), “the undiscovered country” from where “no traveler returns” (5) makes matters worse. It makes us afraid to act at times when perhaps we should act.

Yet, even though we know so little, and we really know that the more we know, the more we need to know, there is still the ability to wish/dream and that of having satisfaction, learning. Descartes already established (for me anyway) that we do know that we exist and Kant stated that “man is an end in itself”. So, we know all this (or at least some of us take this as a truth). And we know that we are free within the limits of our condition. We are free to choose: “to be or not to be”.

This, “To be or not to be” question, we all live with and ultimately a decision we all take, without giving too much thought sometimes. But Hamlet’s question does not complete the whole. For once we decide whether “to be or not to be”, we must also decide how we are going “to be”. It is the second question which creates most of the problems with “being”.

Hamlet only explored the question of whether to live or not. He was at an extremely difficult point in his life and thus, it is acceptable to see him debating over whether he should commit suicide or not. Yet, from throughout the play, we know Hamlet to be a real “thinking reed” and so he does not jump to conclusions; he weighs his choices carefully. He knew life to be full of sorrows and grief but all these, he knew very well and ultimately he overcame them. Yet, when he thought of death, he realized that he knew nothing of it, and indeed he knew that it may bring new “ills”, which he did not know of. Although Hamlet saw himself as a coward for not taking action, he reasonably chose “to be” instead of giving-up and facing new problems. In doing so, Hamlet actually showed courage in the sense that he faced his troubles and tried to solve them.

Also as a general rule, and as Nietzsche would state: “I will” not only “not allow myself to be deceived” (6), but “I will not” even deceive “myself”. So in a way, the protagonist in Kafka’s The Trial, perhaps deceived himself of the entire situation. As the priest said, (and K. obviously did not understand), “it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must accept it as necessary” (7). In a strange way sometimes when “we attend to a transgression of duty”, we “do not will that our maxim should become a universal law … but rather that the opposite of this maxim should remain a law universally” (8). Therefore, it is critical not to assume, take for granted, or believe that what is or seems necessary must also be true.

This confusion and the general confusion within many people may lay in the fact that we do not know (in general) what to do. This is a question of morality. Thus, as Kant states, an action must be taken from our moral duty in order for our maxim to become a universal law.

If Nietzsche stated that to “be on moral ground” one must not deceive (not even himself), then that must be a universal law. With that in mind, one must think of Montaigne, who wrote that one must not, not contradict himself or herself but that one must not contradict the truth. And thus, we remain on moral ground. Contradicting oneself may be because one sees one’s “wretchedness”. There is nothing wrong in that. As Pascal encouraged: “strive to think well”.

In Notes from the Underground, Dostoyevsky wrote of one’s conscience, a guilty conscience and its possible healing, when he claimed that “I have only recently … the whole truth”. There is no question of “to be or not to be”. The protagonist obviously chose to be, yet how he chose to be was still in question. The fault, the injustice and selfishness of being were themes of Dostoyevsky’s book. We already know that man is not perfect, that he lies and he even lies to himself. But that is a matter of “being” and in a way, of the human condition; the importance lies in being earnest, in exploring one’s lies and “turning” them into “truths”. Maybe that is one message Dostoyevsky was trying to reveal, in respect to the human condition and to what one must do.

Hamlet was heroic in the sense that he acted and acted cautiously, trying to “get rid” of “the ghosts of the past” (9) and “let in the light’. The accumulation of these ghosts as Ibsen would say, made Hamlet, who was a decent man, seem crazy. Yet, his actions were calculated in such a way as to attain the truth. And above all, Hamlet’s spirit remained free. He realized that he was indeed free within the boundaries of life. Hamlet realized that he was not a slave; he knew his human condition well thus, acted accordingly. Kafka’s K. did not realize his freedom. The story the priest told K., of the man who could not get by the guardian to enter the Court of Law, was a perfect example of one not knowing or understanding his or her human condition and ultimately, not knowing what to do. Throughout the story, K. rested less and less on his own judgment and believed less and less in himself; he always looked for “outside” help.

It is genuinely important to know of one’s human condition. That is what allows the future to unfold: to dream, to wish – to make things happen. I personally do not need hope but many people do. Knowing our human condition can indeed bring hope to people. And hope is sometimes needed, together with this need of knowing what is human and of what one must do. Also balance is necessary in all this, since one must not only be but also know how to be.

Note: I could not get the footnotes working so I will just list them in the following:

1. Ibsen, Ghosts, Eight Plays, 113

2. Ibsen, Ghosts, Eight Plays, 113

3. Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground, 122

4.Pascal, Thoughts, #17

5.Shakespeare, Hamlet: III. 1, lines 60-61

6. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 281-283

7. Kafka, The Trial, 220-221

8. Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 32-33

9. Ibsen, Ghosts, Eight Plays, 113


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Mr. Happy profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr. Happy 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      lol No steam here Mr. Spirit Whisperer. I honestly thought you somehow got things mixed-up since there are so many blogs on that issue (plus the one I emailed you ...).

      And I do not think you are an idiot ... not even if I was joking. All the best.

    • Mr. Happy profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr. Happy 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      At 1:40: "For no other reason than it's fascinated with its own recognition for some reason." lol "For some reason ..." - that's philosophizing ... His entire explanation, his thoughts or ideas presented are his philosophy ... lol That's the way I see it anyway.

      "There is no accuracy in the self" .. pretty bold statement ...

      At 7:32 He said: "In this that we are, it does not even say: I am this." You asked me the question before: "Who was the "I" that is communicating?" (or something along those lines) I am sure you remember my answer ... it wasn't words because I said I could not answer that question ... not with words anyway.

      I just think that as long as we use words and this three dimensional perspective, talking about what we think or not think ... that's philosophizing. I think it's great and the video was great!

      Just an opinion.

      Thank you for that! Cheers.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      9 years ago from Isle of Man

      LOL, I am laughing so much now because I can see you typing that message with steam coming from your nostrils thinking "what and idiot that man SW is can't he even see the snow? You would think he lives half way across the world!" Wolfman Jack you crack me up and that is why I love you soooomuch! Don't you know by now that I inhabit a different planet! LMAO

    • Mr. Happy profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr. Happy 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I went to Attawapiskat in January - January 9th to be precise. That's where: came from - hence the snow on the ground (in the photos) and all.

      I will check-out the youtube video now. Thank you.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      9 years ago from Isle of Man

      Here is something to help you understand where I am coming from. This man Mooji resonates with me.

      BTW I thought you were on your way to scalp some politicians and see the conditions of a school a girl invited you to see!!!

    • Mr. Happy profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr. Happy 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you Mr. Spirit Whisperer. This piece was meant to be read before "My Stairway to Heaven".

      I am still wondering how you do not think all these conversations (including your own) are not philosophical in nature? Ohh well, it doesn't really matter.

      Thank you for your time Sir!

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      9 years ago from Isle of Man

      This is a good philosophical piece for people interested in philosophy.

    • profile image 

      9 years ago

      We all have our ghosts from our past (and some from beyond). We must find peace and direction from our own beliefs.

      Be true to your own self - (heaer that somewhere...)

      thank you for making us think


    • avorodisa profile image

      Anna Sidorova 

      9 years ago from Russia

      Yes, we can live through this life with a lifestyle. We can appear this or that way to the people. And we can die very spectacularly or quite humbly. There is always a choice for us. But the best way to be is (to be) honest with yourself(IMHO).

      It is not always easy to face the challenges that the life brings us every day. Yet, we must do our best to stay human, to live through the turmoil of life with the dignity worth of a man.

    • Alladream74 profile image

      Victor Mavedzenge 

      9 years ago from Oakland, California

      I enjoy the discussion this hub has generated.Evidence of great writing.

    • Mr. Happy profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr. Happy 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Mr. Diogenese, the "am" part is indeed a rather difficult concept. "Am" I suppose is existence and I like the force field analogy. Thank you for your input!

      Mr. Nelson, the "wherever you go there you are" quote is a little tricky. If you go somewhere spiritually, are you there physically as well? Just something to think about ...

      Thank you for stopping-by!

      Mrs. SaMcNutt, I have never heard about that book but since the "road" is all I have quite often, I think I will have to look into that title. Cheers!

      Mrs. Alice, I like the Wonderland you come from and I cannot thank you enough for your comment. It is quite priceless.

      We are.

      Thank you.

      Mrs. Granny's House, we indeed make our own choices but what we have to make our choices with are the lessons learned from our parents or our teachers, no?

      Thank you for your time.

      Mr. Rev. Bill, your words are humbling and I can only wish to be able to live up to them. Thank you very much.

      Mr. Alladream: "I am because you are the way you are", is a fabulous quote. We indeed exists because of each other. What would my existence be if I were alone on this planet? Ewww ...

      I would enjoy a coffee Sir. I drink many each day. Cheers!

    • Alladream74 profile image

      Victor Mavedzenge 

      10 years ago from Oakland, California

      A lot of points to ponder here.From an African perspective, a peron is "munhu" ( pronounced moon-woo) and living in harmony with others is "hunhu" (who-noo). You have probably heard of the african philosophy of living "Ubuntu" which is summed up as "I am because you are".

      The long and short of it is that I am the way I am because you are the way you are,we (should )influence each other in more ways than one. This resonates with what Alice DeWonder said, "We are all one". We are products of our environment yes, but no to imply that we are totally thus,but in the production, we have choices that may influence the outcome,minimally or fundamentally. Thus comes in the question of nature versus nurture. One who does not question and be pro-active is like the rider in a horse drawn wagon, taken passively where ever the horse may choose to go. On the other hand, there is one who drives the wagon,telling the horse where to go...

      We would need to sit down and have coffee over this one,it is a multi-faceted debate that demands time.

    • Rev Bill profile image

      Rev Bill 

      10 years ago from FORT WHITE,FL

      Very intelligent writing. It takes an evolved consciousness to see beyond the every day limited thinking of our society.

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 

      10 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      I have heard it said many times " We are a product of our environment" but I think we make our own choices and should not use this to justify what and who you are.

      Just saying


    • Alice DeWonder profile image

      Alice DeWonder 

      10 years ago from 3rd planet from Sun

      "The question is the answer that we never will find out." Harry Chapin.

      We are here. That's it. To turn to others to determine what we should be...or not be defeats the purpose of the life bestowed upon each of us.

      Some of have choice, but most of don't. EX: the baby born to no sustenance. There are more living this existence than not. It is pleasant to have the freedom to absorb and reflect philosophies when we are fed.

      Throughout the course of human written history we have unfortunately followed a redundant course of philosophy, strategies, and protocols that have little to do with what we are. We are the species human; not a pretty sight. Call it my misanthropy, I like to reference it as experience.

      The metaphysical veil, according to Crazy Horse, shields the puppet masters of our lives; i.e.; we haven't any control. Aldous Huxley offered a similar perspective.

      Me? I believe that we are all one - but not in the sense it has been foolishly interpreted.

      Peace baby

    • SaMcNutt profile image


      10 years ago from Englewood, CO

      All those literary references, I love it! The state of being. I like how you discuss the need for hope for some and it makes me think of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." Some did not like it because they thought it depressing and bleak but, I thought of it as hopeful. The man lives. He is being if only for his son with whom on the road proceeds.

      Zehr sho:ne

    • GNelson profile image


      10 years ago from Florida

      I am not a deep thinker but I have learned one thing is true, no matter where I go there I am. Good hub!

    • diogenes profile image


      10 years ago from UK and Mexico

      This is quite a mouthful and certainly uses some strong reasoning and ammunition. It seems to me quantum physics has thrown the question back to the philosophers about just what man is. "I think, therefore I am" although difficult to dispute, exactly what the "AM" is is not so neatly encapsulated. The Am now would seem to be nothing more than a force field; a grouping of particles which act and react a certain way, as does a tree, a bird, a rock or a universe...Bob

    • Mr. Happy profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr. Happy 

      10 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you for your answer Kallini. It is a difficult task to "attain unto yourself" but worth pursuing, in my opinion.

      "Be who you are!" - worth thinking about.

      Thank you for taking the time to go through this and comment. Metaphysics is not an easy subject. Cheers!

    • kallini2010 profile image


      10 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      How to be - to be yourself and true to yourself.

      It might sound a bit complicated, yet I believe it is true:


      Victor Pelevin “The Sacred Book of Werewolf”

      The cause of error by living beings is that they believe it is possible to cast aside the false and attain unto the truth. But when you attain unto yourself, the false becomes true, and there is no other truth to which one need attain after that.



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)