Sunday, August 28, 2011

Still on the line?

August 28, 2011

Dear friends,

Glen Campbell’s family recently revealed that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In facing the loss of skills and memory with which he is confronted, Campbell with his family’s support has determined to undertake a last public tour. In gentle salute to his courage, a local radio station played some of Campbell’s classic performances from the 60’s and 70’s. Listening while returning from an errand, I caught one of the lines from Wichita Lineman: “. . . and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time. . . .”

Here it is again, I thought to myself—this idea that relationships are defined by wants and needs—mine?—yours?—and measured by some wordless yardstick of personal fulfillment.

If for a moment we revisit the simple paradigm of needs I outlined earlier [security/survival; love/esteem; power/control], the difficulty in this model of relationship immediately raises some complex issues. How can someone else meet—and continue to meet—my need for security? And what if (echoes of Wichita Lineman) I need more security than I want, and what I think I want is you (for all time, no less), even though I recognize that my need is greater than my want in the relationship? Hmm--.

What do we mean anyway when we speak of a “good” relationship?

If we consider a good relationship as one in which the well-being of both participants is respected and nourished, we assume by definition that the needs and wants of participating individuals are carefully regarded. Such a definition gets us a step further in exploring the challenge of individual needs/wants in the context of relationship. However, the assumption that the needs/wants must be governed by the mutual well-being of participants leads, alas, to yet another knotty question. Who decides about how much is enough to meet the well-being criteria?

Is it my responsibility to determine how much love/esteem or power/control you need? Do I decide how much is good for you? Do you decide what is good for you? What if you don’t know? What if you’re mistaken? And—uncomfortable bottom line—am I obligated to respond to your assessment of your needs even when I disagree? And what if I do not want/need to meet your need/want?

What happens to me in the relationship if I recognize that in meeting your needs my needs have become greater than my want to be in the relationship?

In the consumer-oriented model of relationship, no matter how conflicted, want and need remain trump. And in this context the last line of the song is oddly haunting—“And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.”

Still on the line?

Thinking with you of the tension that the want/need dilemma brings to the issue of commitment and covenant.

See you next week.


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