"Better to act, than to wander around in dreams."
--from the Ramayana (ancient Hindu epic)
I went down to Silicon Valley on a marketing mission for a management consulting project that blended philosophy with business. My partner in this venture was a well- known existential philosopher who had resigned his bookish university job for full-time management consulting to large multinational corporations.
We sought to transform short-sighted, profit-focused, C.Y.A. (i.e., "Cover Your Ass") corporate creatures into philosopher-executives. This would be the modern day parallel of Plato's idea of the philosopher-king -- a person that embodied leadership and wisdom all at once.
My partner, who looked much older and wiser than myself, put it to one of these anxious managers, "The difference between thought and action is that to think involves no risk; but, every time you act, you risk death!"
Now, he did not mean actual physical death, rather he meant the little death, one of the many thousands of little deaths that our egos suffer as we overcome fear and live.
The corporate group was very impressed with our presentation. But in the end, they did not buy the consulting program. No one in the department dared to act. All our reflections about their state of inaction did not help. As I walked around the company, I was amazed that anything got done. The place looked like a bunch of bees buzzing around each other's cubicles. The place was filled with really nice people. But deep inside they were afraid to do the wrong thing. No one wanted to look bad.
Anxiety is what you feel between the thought and the action. Imagine how one feels on the edge of a pool of cold water, just before leaping in. One knows it's going to feel good to do it. But it's cold! So there is anxiety. Life is filled with such situations.
You have a good idea. You want to tell the boss. You know she might think it's stupid. You sit on the fence between thought and action. More often than not, action never comes. You let the moment pass. Companies are now filled with people who are unable to act. There are worlds of fearful people out there. The decline of "American productivity", I suspect, has something to do with this.
The philosopher Martin Heidegger noted in Being and Time that death provides us with the best opportunity for contacting our utmost being. In other words, we immediately know ourselves exceptionally when faced with death. In our dreams and fantasies we accomplish remarkable things. But just step out into the light of an ordinary day and we become immediately deflated.
Some folks confuse talk for action. But talk is just dreaming out loud. I used to lead meetings. We would talk about when the meeting would be end. Yet, it would drag on. Then one day I discovered that all I had to do to finish a meeting was to stand up! Talk may be cheap, but it can last forever
If to act is to risk ego loss, then by action we indeed get to know and become friends with ourselves, which includes a lot of fears that need to be overcome. It's no accident that the U.S. Army used the recruiting slogan, "Be all you can be ." If we but live each day, as if it is the last, we can live completely. That is being all we can be.