Are you a lifer?

[Note from Kathie Malley-Morrison:  Today’s post is by my dear friend and long-time activist for peace and justice, Anthony J. Marsella. Anthony is Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, and is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR).  He has published 15 books and more than 240 chapters, articles, and popular pieces, many on peace and social justice.]


Illustration by Adaiyaalam. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Unported 3.0 license.

The emergence of our global era confronts us with new and bewildering challenges to the formation, change, and assertion of our identity:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “What do I believe?”
  • “What is my purpose?”
  • “What are my responsibilities?”
  • “How did I become who I am?”

Age-old questions regarding identity must now be answered in the context of unavoidable competing and conflicting global forces that give rise to increasing levels of uncertainty, unpredictability, confusion, and fear.

A sense of identity is at the core of human existence and meaning. It offers us an awareness of who and what we are.  Amidst our quest for identity—essential to human functioning—we are missing an identification that may be critical for our survival, and that is an identity with life itself.

We seem oblivious to the fact that above all things, we are alive, and life deserves our loyalty as much as any other identity we may have or pursue. We are embedded in life; we are surrounded and immersed in life in millions of ways. It is the most obvious and yet most ignored aspect of our being, and in our ignorance, we fail to see that we are connected, united, linked to so much more beyond ourselves.  That “connection” holds the key to our very nature.

I would like to suggest that a solution to many of the challenges we face may be to move beyond our conventional identifications with self, culture, nation, and even humanity, to an identification with life—Lifeism.

Please consider—and respond to this post—with examples of how you can become a lifer, how you can embrace life more fully, and cherish all life on earth, not just that of yourself and those close to you.

Anthony J. Marsella

Show, by your actions, that you choose peace over war, freedom over oppression, voice over silence, service over self-interest, respect over advantage, courage over fear, cooperation over competition, action over passivity, diversity over uniformity, and justice over all.

Adapted from Marsella, A.J. (2012) Lifeism and nonkilling; I am what am.  In D. Christie & J. Pim (Eds.) Nonkilling Psychology.  Pp. 361-387.  Honolulu, Hawaii:  Center for Global Non-Violence.


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8 Responses to Are you a lifer?

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    I applaud the idealism expressed in “Life-ism” but this morning find it difficult to embrace all life. I understand that the term is a metaphor, yet I’m feeling stressed and angry about what’s happening in Afghanistan. Members of our military did burn the Quran, and for Rick Santorum to describe this as an inadvertent mistake is absurd. Also absurd is his claim that President Obama should not have apologized for the offense. The President recognized that the act would create outrage in the hearts of the Afghanistan population, just as Americans would be outraged if the Bible were burned. I wonder how the US soldiers, who may have been laughing as they ignited the Quran, feel today about their “mistake.”

  2. I’m also very interested in different identity formations, but “lifeism” doesn’t mean much to me per se. I do think it’s critical to have an orientation to the oneness of humanity, however, to get beyond narrow “us vs. them” identities that are increasingly leading to violence. My views are influenced my religious tradition (the Baha’i Faith), which doesn’t dismiss cultural and national affiliations, but calls us in this age to wider loyalties. Here’s a helpful quote from our writings:

    “The unity which is productive of unlimited results is first a unity of mankind which recognizes that all are sheltered beneath the overshadowing glory of the All-Glorious; that all are servants of one God; for all breathe the same atmosphere, live upon the same earth, move beneath the same heavens, receive effulgence from the same sun and are under the protection of one God. This is the most great unity, and its results are lasting if humanity adheres to it; but mankind has hitherto violated it, adhering to sectarian or other limited unities such as racial, patriotic or unity of self-interests; therefore no great results have been forthcoming.”

  3. Todd Aronson says:

    I met a man who taught me how he confronts his challenges in a fascinating way that happens to be highly applicable to the topic. He would ask himself in the face of a tough decision, “does this diminish or enlarge life?” Looking through this lens helps to clarify the degrees of “lifeism” we can experience by our decisions. For instance, when choosing jobs we can easily over-think career options to the point of confusion. But when you consider job options through the lens of, “does this diminish or enlarge life” we can see which jobs make a positive impact on life and which are superficial.

    The other point I wanted to make is that I wanted to thank Kathie for hosting this site as she is utterly brilliant and wonderful. I have been working with her for years and I strongly feel that her work enlarges life.

    • Gold Dust Twin says:

      I would like to add my praise to Todd Arnonson’s for Kathie’s site and her dedication to world peace. I have never forgotten a jotting on the blackboard of my high school English teacher: “Ah, but a man’s [or a woman’s] reach should exceed his [or her] grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”(Robert Browning)

  4. Cristina Arroyo says:

    I’m not exactly sure on how to become a Lifer because this is a new concept for me. However, something about it felt familiar. Perhaps, Lifeism is about being passionate about topics/ideas and not merely being indifferent to the world around us. Perhaps, a connection with life is evident in the birth of a child or the death of a loved one–common, grand experiences. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, but I believe that Lifeism may start with thinking outside of ourselves, discovering infinite possibilities for the impact a single life can have.

  5. Kamilla Mauseth says:

    The concept of Lifeism is an idealistic albeit romantic notion to live our lives by. As identity and insight into oneself is the core to vitalizing life and a process everyone goes through at some stage, but the extension beyond oneself takes time and thought. As the expansion of media’s effect on the common public has exponentially grown over the past years a mentality of materialism and ignorance to others than ourselves has also evolved. We focus on our victories, our successes and our liberating of the poor and weak as we group ourselves into them and us and glorify the sanctity of war (Corgan, Malley-Morrison). The sad truth is that most people sit and accept media as the one true form of information. Not necessarily everyone, but those who matter. Those who work the hardest and get the least. I ideally wish that the world could unite in the cause to identify with each other and life itself rather than the daily and individualistic difficulties, but I believe this is a naïve notion that goes against the human functioning at the moment. We can’t constantly think of worldly conflicts and seek peace and unity for all life, those thoughts don’t pay the bills and they don’t drive the kids to school. Those thoughts, sadly, occur in heated debates between armchair philosophers. This level of collective care and thinking is vital for the formation of a peaceful world, but it’s too soon to begin thinking in this way as there are more pressing issues and actions that need to be considered and brought to people’s attention first. I believe through awareness of the realities of conflict and war can people begin to see beyond themselves. At the moment people watch TV and shake their heads, tut or sign in disbelief of what is happening in conflicted nations, but that is all they do and that is how far these issues affect them. Through techniques of moral engagement the public need to make it their concern and truly care. But, this is nothing that can be forced upon them, you can’t make them care it is something that has to develop on its own. It has to be their opinions and their perspectives because through concluding for themselves they strengthen their engagement to the cause. We can help this process by actively seeking conversations that inspire others to delve into an area they never considered and educate themselves on the facts, by posting on blogs and hoping someone new will begin to start thinking critically, by getting our voices out there are hoping at least one other heard it. Then when people start thinking we can finally start acting.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thank you for your comment, Camilla. Could you expand on the meaning of moral engagement and what it involves, and maybe how it differs from moral disengagement?

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