October 1, 2011
This whole "wants/needs" business remains muddled, no matter from which direction one approaches the puzzle.
Disregard of the importance of human wants and needs becomes at best a pretentious asceticism, a self-imposed deprivation that leads ultimately to a Scrooge-like emotional winter in the inner world of the self. At worst, indulgence of human wants and needs leads to a distorted understanding of the essentials required for being and significance, and, ultimately, to a quagmire of confusion in which comfort is entangled with safety, and never-enough becomes the idée fixe around which life goals are shaped.
In relationships we are faced with two aspects of the problem. We can, and sometimes do, behave as though in the relationship our needs and wants are of little or no concern, and, in a self-deceived mode of self-sacrifice, set ourselves up for growing anger and destructive discontent. In contrast we can (and sometimes do) permit our needs and wants to function as the emotional dictator of the relationship. When we do this, we come to value the “other” not for the individual persons they are but for what they can provide for our comfort and satisfaction. Then when, as inevitably happens, we find ourselves alone we tell ourselves that we have been unreasonably abandoned and betrayed.
Further, there is the frustrating difficulty in determining how-much-is-enough. How much of what I want and need is necessary for my well-being? Then, further complication, who is to judge this prickly question? I, or the “valuable other”? What does it mean to guard my heart in terms of satisfaction of my wants and needs? And how is disagreement to be arbitrated if the “valuable other” and I disagree about the impact of my wants and needs on my well-being or on the relationship? And, in contrast, how is the disagreement to be mediated when I think that the wants and needs of the “valuable other” are being self-denied (or, conversely, self-indulged), in ways that drive the relationship toward destructive goals?
My attention was caught again this week by advice the Apostle Paul gave the churches in Galatia.
Paul borrowed a metaphor for relationships from the experience of back-packing and hiking. Share one another’s burdens, Paul wrote encouragingly (Gal. 6:2, The Message); if you think you are too good for that, he added, you are badly deceived.
But then, in the very next paragraph, Paul writes:
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galatians 6:3-5, The Message)
In the KJV, the text reads bluntly and somewhat paradoxically:
“Bear ye one another’s burdens. . . .” [Gal 6:2]
“. . . for every man shall bear his own load.” [Gal. 6:5]
Thinking with you about the challenge of living relationally in a way that both shares the burden of self-knowledge with the valuable other, while, at the same time, takes responsibility for doing the creative best I can with my own life.
See you next week.