21. An appreciation of greater needs

“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.

4 thoughts on “21. An appreciation of greater needs

  1. A need to be needed…interesting.
    Viktor E. Frankl would say that man needs meaning and purpose in his life whatever that life is:
    “For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”
    Thank you for posting.

  2. In your earlier writing you make the distinction clearly between the wants and desires amongst those who don’t need created by and feeding capitalism (which you make clear does not take into consideration the needs of the really poor) and the real needs of people and communities with no food or clean water – for whom wants are a luxury they can’t afford. In this blog here you seem to have lost this distinction. These are wants your friends are expressing. Not needs. Not sure why you posted it.

  3. I have read your blog with great interest. I cannot personify with your own wonderful depth and clarity but give you my own simplistic view. Your interesting perspective of the world in which we occupy, as part time tenants hypnotically fascinates me.

    I often wonder if we need because of our inner fear of nothingness, death and that great and unknown void. Need fills that void. How morbid you must think I am.

    I consider that needs are constantly evolving from our essential function, learning. Something, which has developed from early man and the discovery of cooking our food to make it easier to digest and bringing together a community to work this function and evolving from this, our basic needs which are the fundamentals such as heat, shelter etc. Learning has to be the key element. As we progress, we have given ourselves time to relax and ponder. This process has enabled us to cultivate and improve our ideas, express our creativity, consider religion and create boundaries. You yourself, Yorick help us to understand about many of these areas.

    In this, we may loosely term as play, our needs have evolved with technology and media. I suppose I feel the Advertising Industry is a ‘want’ and they are there to fill an imaginary ‘need’, which is psychologically nurtured. As humans we take more than we need to satisfy our basic intentions and some civilisations consider this to be a mental illness.

    Before I make you fall into a lulled stupor with my message, I wish to recall a fable I was told as a child. You may remember it yourself Yorick. It is the one about the king that loved food and was only given the most glorious dishes from all reaches of the earth. He soon grew tired of his culinary variety and sent word out that if there were anyone in the kingdom, who could titillate his pallet, he would pay him handsomely. A poor ragged man arrived at the palace and said he could do this deed. The pilgrim walked the king without servants, into the dessert; they walked for miles and the king begged to stop. Eventually they reached a small water hole and they settled down to rest. Here, the pilgrim opened his bag and produced a simple loaf of bread. “Here is your meal” he told the King “and here is your drink” he added, gesturing towards the water hole. The King, hot, tired and weary, tasted the bread and declared that it was the best meal he had ever had and the cool spring water quenched his thirst and restored his understanding of simple needs. Well I need say no more Yorick.

    I will continue to read your blogs with fascination.
    Kind regards
    Katherine Hutchings

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