Agere sequitur esse is a Latin phrase from the Middle Ages discussed primarily by philosophers which means, “action follows being”. I believe this concept has a great deal of influence on us today whether you are a philosopher or not. The basic meaning of the phrase is that who we are our identity and what we are, our being, is foundational for how how we act and what choices we make in life. One set of choices is good for a dog based on it being a dog. Those same choices would not be good for a cat, a gopher, or a human being. This concept goes all the way back to the ancient Greek thinkers who believed that nature determined one’s essence. A good life then was to be found in aligning one’s actions, habits, and values with that given nature. In the Middle Ages, the one assigning essence shifted to God. God gave a thing it’s essence and a good life whether it be for a horse or human was to fully live into that essence.
This old wisdom has much to teach and challenge our modern assumptions about life and specifically the good life today. I believe we need to discover who we are, and what we are as humans first. Let’s get really clear on the foundational concepts of identity first, and from there decisions about individual actions, what habits to develop or move away from become much easier to determine. If you don’t know who you are, how can you know what you are to do? One value that a therapist can help with is to help identify and connect the various thoughts, feelings, and actions we make. Often when life is challenging or confusing our choices and reactions may not seem to be connected. A good therapist will help connect the dots, and show you the through-line in your life.
By asking probing questions like “why did you feel that way when you did “X”?” Or “after you did “X” how did that make you feel?” Clients and therapists can work together to gain insight into who we are, and recognize when our actions are not in alignment with our essence. This path to know what you are and who you are is the ancient Greek challenge to “know thyself” which is a lifelong journey. The depths of the human person cannot be excavated in a month, year, or even decade of contemplation, but the more we get to know ourselves the more empowered we become to live authentically and in alignment with our essence. We can begin to understand who we are, and who we want to become in the future. Instead of reacting to situations as they arise, we can become more proactive in our story. The more we do this, the more we participate in the good life.