Posted in book reviews, reflections

To BE it, DO it: Thoughts from C.S. Lewis

What comes first, being or doing?  In an age conversant with genetics, the answer seems obvious. What one does often reflects what one first isby constitution at birth. For example, in our family, men have a distinctive shuffle, what someone has dubbed the “Crofford walk.” We hunch our shoulders slightly, and walk with purpose. Strangely, even male members of the Crofford clan who have grown up apart on different coasts in the United States share this conspicuous genetic trait.

But how often do we consider whether the formula can be reversed? Rather than being determining doing, can doing shape being?

C.S. Lewis tackled this question in his celebrated 1952 collection, Mere Christianity. The series of radio broadcasts included a fascinating chapter titled “Let’s Pretend.” The broader question he addressed is what it means to be a Christian. Lewis came at his topic indirectly, using an example of a man who is unfriendly (p. 188):

When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.

One might summarize Lewis’ argument in this way: To BE it, DO it.

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