Tis the season for people to ask,”What do you want for Christmas?” Very often, that question is followed by, “Is there anything you need?” When I think about these two questions, however, I begin to realize that the things we want and the things we need are so often confused that I bet few of us really ever stop to think about the difference. But there is a difference. And it is huge.
Perhaps the most tangible distinction between want and need is seen in the parent/child relationship. A child, standing in the toy aisle at Walmart holds up a doll and proclaims, “But mom, I neeeeed this.” The mother turns to the child wisely and clarifies, “No. You don’t need one more doll. You want it.” When was the last time we assessed the things we really need vs. the things we just badly want?
I was reading an article online this afternoon in which the author suggested that even in our relationships we are guilty of turning desires into needs. When we say that we need another person to listen, or spend more time with us, or be honest, what we are really expressing are desires. And sure, those fulfilled desires may be the things that need to happen in a relationship for it to be meaningful and fulfilling to us. But, truth be told, if they don’t happen, we won’t die. The point of the article was to caution us that when we turn our wants into things we need, we also embrace a sense of entitlement around them and we lose our accountability. In other words, because we “need” something, we almost become a victim to it and therefore we can’t be held accountable for whatever consequences fulfilling that need brings. We also remove any power we have over a situation by using the term “need.”
I’m thinking about that article and about the child in Walmart and I’m assessing how many times I’ve said I needed something and really haven’t. I’m almost embarrassed to count the times when I’ve incorrectly assigned need to something I simply desired. The truth is that my needs are met – I’m warm and dry and safe. I am never really hungry and I can pay my bills every month. From a needs level, I am doing pretty well. For that, I am grateful.
I’m also thinking about the idea of needing another person and I’m convinced that the romance movies have swindled us all. Think about the scene – you know the one – it’s raining and there’s a guy standing with flowers in front of the woman he’s scorned. What does he say? The answer is pretty consistent: “I need you.” Well, instead of reaching for the tissue box and rooting for this man who has all of a sudden given up every choice he could make to succumb to need, think about what it would be like if instead of proclaiming need, he said: “I have choices in my life. But what I WANT is you.” Hands down, I’d rather have a man who chooses to be with me because he feels empowered to make that choice than one who stays simply because he think he needs to. I bet a lot of people would agree if they stopped for just a minute to really think about it.
All that said, I will confess that there have been times in my life when I’ve wanted something so intensely that it felt like a need. I am fortunate to have loved another person with such an intensity that to think about them not in my life makes it hard for me to breathe. The power of desire is real and true and deep. And the disappointment of not having those intense desires met can be crippling. But to pursue a want is a choice. Understanding that choice is a responsibility. And being clear about all of that gives us power to love more deeply than if it was just something we needed to do.
So….Dear Santa, I don’t really need anything this year. Can I tell you what I want?
(The article referenced here can be found at the Sun Times: http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/hart/11464830-452/big-difference-between-what-we-want-and-truly-need.html#.VI9RvSvF98E)