Instrumental and Expressive Actions

Current nap time reading:  The Active Life by Parker Palmer

He describes the difference between instrumental and expressive actions:

“the instrumental image, which dominates Western culture, portrays action as a means to predetermined ends, as an instrument or tool of our intentions.  The only possible measure of such action is whether it achieves the ends at which it is aimed.  Instrumental action is governed by the logic of success and failure; it discourages us from risk-taking because it values success over learning, and it abhors failure whether we learn from it or not. . . .An expressive act is one that I take not to achieve a goal outside myself but to express a conviction, a leading, a truth that is within me.  An expressive act is one taken because if I did not take it I would be denying my own insight, gift, nature.  By taking an expressive act, an act not obsessed with outcomes, I come closer to making the contribution that is mine to make in the scheme of things.”   Parker Palmer in The Active Life p. 23-24

So I took parts of our current day, and I considered what different points of view make the same activity seems like.

Instrumental Action Expressive Action
Breakfast Food is placed before me, so I finish eating it. I am so hungry after fasting all night; I eat to satisfy hunger.
Morning outing My child needs exercise, and I need produce. Creation invites me to come, and my body needs to move.
Nap Time My child needs time to recuperate, grow, and file new knowledge; sleep offers that. I’m sleepy.
Story Time To develop vocabulary, knowledge base reading works well. Cuddling and a good story, who could ask for more?

These divisions are excellent for understanding different motivations in myself on many different aspects of life.  I want to cultivate

Gandhi said, “My life is my message.”       – The ultimate in expressive action”

“In action, we project our spirits outside ourselves. Sometimes we project shadows which do damage to others, and sometimes we project light that others want to extinguish.”.  –  Parker Palmer, p. 11

What have I projected today?

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.  James 1:22-25

It is so easy to have a virtuous goal; it’s much more challenging, life altering, and life-time taking to be transformed into a virtuous person.


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