LIGHTbulb Moment: Wisdom

We\’re brought up in a culture that tells us, \”You are what you do.\” When people say, \”Tell me about yourself,\” we immediately talk about career, as if that is a complete and perfect definition of who and what we are. In many parts of the East this is not the case. Someone will say, \”Tell us about yourself. Are you a painter?\” And the response will be, \”No, I paint, but I am not a painter.\” There\’s recognition of the separation between who the person is and the activity they\’re performing. They are a person and they are just doing something. That was a big lesson for me, recognizing that I am something other than, and maybe more important than, what I do. To learn not to define myself by what I do for a living, and that my work is an outgrowth of who I am, rather than it being the reason for who I am. That\’s one of the main things I got from studying Eastern thought.

To be compassionate is to feel somebody else\’s pain, to recognize and feel somebody else\’s situation. We pay a lot of lip service to that idea, and it\’s easy to say, \”Yeah, I know exactly where you\’re coming from.\” But I think rarely do people actually feel what\’s going on in another person. That\’s what real compassion is.

One of the worst aspects of fame is that is can start to solidify your picture of yourself. It can turn you into something static and lifeless. The perfect opposite of that was Picasso, who redefined himself with every new picture. He kept changing styles. He didn\’t seem to give a damn how he was going over, or what a specific gallery would want from him. Fame, in its worst aspect, defines for the person who they want to continue being and it can deprive you of your growth. Either you\’re growing or your decaying; there\’s no middle ground. Even if you\’re standing still, you\’re decaying.

-Alan Arkin, from the book Wisdom by Andrew Zuckerman