This past week, I’ve had three meaningful interactions with friends that complemented my own continued inner journey and, together, led me to want to speak, again and anew, about the tragedy of how we’ve been taught to relate to our needs. On the surface, our stories look so different from each other: being let down by friends at a time of crisis; exploding at a partner in response to a small stimulus; being unwilling to talk to a mother; and finding it exceedingly difficult to maintain a mindful engagement with life. It took some focus to see the theme that ties them all together: they all stem from a pervasive challenge about making our needs important enough.
Is this our view of what "needy" has to mean? Credit: Creative Commons/United Way of Greater St. Louis
In a moment, I unpack each of these (changing details to maintain anonymity) to illustrate the theme. For now, I want to start with marveling at how far we are, collectively, from taking our needs seriously and making them a priority. Instead, we have been trained to view our needs as a sign of weakness or dependence, and as something bottomless that cannot be controlled. We have also been told to view anyone who puts their needs first as inherently selfish. I am happy to say that I have freed myself from this myth. Instead I think of attending to our needs, especially within a culture that so devalues them, as a courageous act that requires commitment, attention, and the willingness to face potential reprimand from others. Because what pulls us away from our needs — habits, impulses, obligations, fear, internalized norms, desire for reward, or belief in scarcity — are so powerful, it takes vigilance to keep our focus and intention in the face of all that’s stacked up against it.
As part of my large vision for what life could be like, how the world could be structured, and what we humans could conceivably be like in such a world, I wholeheartedly want to have millions and millions of people who are as committed to uncovering and cherishing their needs, who keep each other company on the journey to full, authentic, and caring living. If this piece inspires anyone to take their needs more seriously, I will be happy for having written it.