“What really motivates or drives you?” I asked my friends at an end of summer luncheon.
“Need arouses my inner being and sustains it,” volunteered finance manager Janice with considerable intensity. “My need for a kind of spiritual affirmation demands a deeply inward search on my part,” she confessed. “I need to have a sense of where I am going. Above all, I have a need to accept my own uncertainties.”
“I like your honesty, Janice.” retorted James who spends much of his time in Southern Africa helping native groups to modernize their agricultural practices. “Of course we all have a need to know where we are going in this overly revved-up world. The people I work with have seemingly unending material and physical needs — but their social needs and acceptance are richly met in their families and the solidarity of their relationships.”
“Needs. Needs! I’m dealing with weeds all week-end”, joined in Anne, a sun-tanned neighbor desirous of lightening the conversation. “They’re much more real to me than all that psychologizing and social anthropology.”
Fred, the oldest of the group , could not resist inserting a limerick:
There was once a bloke in dire need
Whose thoughts had slowed with his seed
He considered jumping the Niagara
But instead chose the latest Viagra
And is now celebrating in deed.
We all chuckled at Fred, but I was determined to bring the discussion back on track. “The experts on happiness point out that it is not money nor goods nor travels that fulfill our innermost needs. I agree with James that in the tribal communities, like those of New Guinea, the communal life of these so-called primitives provides a much simpler and comparatively more satisfying life for its members than we create for ours.”
“Yes they do,” agreed James. “ their tribal ties, their close family connections, their lack of sexual inhibitions, their spiritual contact with their ancestors, their closeness with nature, the expressiveness of their art all serve to fulfill their what you called their innermost needs.”
“They enjoy significant primary relationships with other,” added Janice, revealing her own inner needs, and then continued “but they are involved in something higher than the material world. They accept the need for self-esteem.”
“Janice you read your own concerns into those of New Guinea natives,” observed Fred. “I prefer to deal with real needs.”
“What do you mean by real needs? Are some unreal to you, Fred?”
“Real needs are those basic ones like thirst, hunger and sex. Less real ones like support and commitment — which concern you — I think of as secondary needs,” countered Fred who could sense Janice was becoming increasingly irritated.
I decided to try and defuse the discussion by bringing in Karl Marx. This tactic has worked for me for years. “Marx defined humans as ‘needy creatures’ who experienced suffering in the process of their hard labors when trying to meet their physical needs. Marx recognized that their efforts also helped to meet their emotional, moral and intellectual needs. But in this process of meeting such diverse needs, humans developed new needs. This implied that, to a certain extent, we humans can make and remake our own nature.”
“I prefer to skip Marx,” responded Fred. “I see needs defined according to our having, doing and interacting. This means: nourishment, good health, security, affection, participation, understanding, identity, creativity, autonomy and freedom.”
I had to admit to myself that this old codger had his feet solidly planted on the ground. Mary-Lee, however, swiftly retorted. “Sure, Fred, but how do these needs depend on human qualities like a sense of humor, passion, care, adaptability, achievement, respect, or receptivity?”
“Our individual needs are representative of all the efforts and interactions involved in being members of society,” tersely replied Fred.
“I’m glad none of you have confused needs and wants,” interjected James. “In Ethiopia I have remarked that ordinary people want what they see on TV and end up feeling needy.”
“Needs are more urgent, intensive and imperative than mere wants,” rejoined Janice. “humans keep on redistributing their wants but seldom their needs.”
“There I have to agree with you, Janice. Wants are often spread by greed. I have come to see capitalism itself as the collectivity of wants and the denial of the real needs of the poor, the sick, the old, the weak and so forth,” said Anne who had been remarkably silent.
“The accompanying word to “want” is the almost infantile ‘MORE’,” added Fred. “That is also the by-word of capitalism.”
“I guess I need to be needed,” admitted Janice. “I also suspect my needs are driven by internal dissatisfactions, unrest and a kind of imbalance.”
Agreeing with her, I concluded: “We all have a powerful need to be needed, that others want us and need us. We must develop an awareness of our feelings as indicators of the needs that are alive within us. I think that is what we have been doing in this lively lunchtime discussion: arriving at some agreement on the importance of the individual needs of each of us. Identifying our needs, met or unmet, as Janice has been trying to do, is the most vital step in this process. Thank you all.