By Levinas’ definition, it appears that being can be good – or, good-beyond-being, that predisposition towards absolute acceptance which permits the facing of the other to be without appropriation. But it also seems that the will to action, intentionality, is fraught with difficulty. As soon as we choose to impose ourselves upon the world through willed action (I also imagine willed inaction would count, too) we place ourselves in a position of power in relation to others. We also place ourselves in a context for them, from which, whether we wish it or not, most people will appropriate a meaning for us of our being. In particular, they will create the sense of a power dynamic between us.
One imagines it would be possible to defuse the power dynamic in the face-to-face, but even if so, it still becomes a hurdle to overcome, given that, for the other, to face us with absolute acceptance is not presumed. In the lived experience of the day-to-day, it would be surprising to meet many people for the good-beyond-being is a natural state, therefore we must expect to be treated as a threat, a challenge to identity, a power relationship, whether or not this is our own predisposition.
If this is the case, then what we choose to do – our occupation or ‘defining’ activity – makes a difference. It is presumed that there exists a desire to open to others the possibility of the good-beyond-being, but to do this, one would have to be in a position where this possibility exists. For most others, then, what we do is important as means to understand the first facing. After this, if the openness of the self to the meaning of the other persists and is authentic, the possibility of dialogue which is truthful and just becomes possible. But in most cases, the first facing is a precursor to saying, rather than the opportunity for the saying itself.
Whilst in principle we can wish to be open to the possibility of true being with all others, in effect, by consequence of our physical limitations, we can only ever be for a limited number of others. (Though, arguably, creativity in writing or art may transcend this limitation to some degree, whilst not replacing the original facing). So where does the choice enter the picture? Who chooses the others for whom we have the possibility of meaning and for whom through us the possibility of meaningfulness becomes real? To some extent, this will be defined by the world/society in which are are thrown – the state. To some extent it will be a function of the shared languages with which saying becomes possible. There is also, always, the family, for whom saying and being starts and within which its first definition comes to pass.
But, importantly, it is we who, by our choices of action, define the wider ‘family’ within which the good-beyond-being has potential. What we become, where we fit in the wider dynamic of the social state, (whether by choice or accident), determines for us the people with whom our lives are lived. Therefore, the ultimate responsibility for opening the possibility of the saying of the other and the self is ours. What we do, whether or not the intentionality is constricting or defining, is the context in which the possibility of being and of authentic meaning exists. Therefore, it has power.