When our wants and needs contradict each other, then what?

My last posting had to do with what I happen to believe is our toughest choice in life: to have control or to have influence in relation to our world. We cannot, I tend to think, have it both ways.

If it is true that sometimes control and influence tend to cancel each other out, and if we truly do lose our influence within the world at the very point we try to take control over it, then that makes for some very tough decisions for us to make.   It also suggests to me a far broader issue, for as the control we want may cancel out the very influence we need, so our wants and needs may in many cases contradict forcing us to make tough decisions about where to hold on and where to let go.

In my own mind, I’ve noticed a frequent illusion in which my wants appear the same as my needs, even when in reality they are sometimes opposite.   I’ve had this tendency since childhood, when my mind had no mature capacity to discern the difference between my wants and needs. Paul writes in I Corinthians 13 about how when we are children, we think like children, and not always in the most loving way possible. For me, that includes thinking that the very things I wanted in life were also the things I needed, or “had to have”………..or else catastrophe! God forbid! As a child, my every “want to” was a “have to.” My wants were always my needs when I thought like a child.

Now I realize this was not reality. It was an illusion, although in fairness to my childish mind it was part-reality. One could say that the devil’s every lie starts with a half-truth. Sometimes my wants and needs were truly the same. Sometimes I really did crave the things I needed. The air. The water. And on those hot and high perspiration days of my boyhood summers on the farm, times were that the salt in my food was both a want and a need. Really? Then pass the potato chips; it’s hot out today, too.

What I’ve come to understand about myself as I’ve gotten older is that most things I seem to crave in this world are simply desires or wants. They are not needs at all. They are things I want to have, not things I have to have to have.

Are you with me here?

On the occasions where I think I should take control over the world around me, I’m really telling myself in the most silent or even unconscious of ways that I need control. I have to have control. Mostly, this is an illusion and not reality. Or, worded differently, it is subjective and not objective.

This type of thinking is where I can easily create my own addictions in life.

While I agree addictions form within our minds to produce neuro-chemical imbalances, indeed a brain disease, the choice-point we do have in the matter is between believing the childish illusion that we need or have to have the object of our addiction, or instead believing we strongly want to have it.

If addicted to alcohol, the drink we want appears in our minds to be the drink we need. To be fair, there is a self-fulfilling prophecy in place where, with alcoholism more than most addictions, the want “really” becomes the need.  Delirium tremors mean our “want” and “need for survival” may truly be one in the same. At that end-stage of this disease of alcoholism, cravings may mean medical detox to be on the safe side.   But that’s typically in the final years or even months of an alcoholic’s life, not before.

However, alcohol is one of multiple opportunities for addictive thinking where our minds believe our wants and needs are all alike.  That is why the recovery community must address the “stinking thinking” of addiction in general or else cross-addictions will soon appear to fill in the space created by one’s primary withdrawal. For my part, I think of all addiction as rooted in the mind’s decision to take control as if, in reality, we needed to be in control over the world around us. Control is what we want, even to the point of craving it.

Influence is what we need.   When we lose all influence, we feel even more out of control, and the vicious cycle perpetuates.

To make the wrong decision here carries high risk in our lives, does it not? To choose the illusion that I need what, in reality, I only want? Well, that can have deadly and self-destructive consequences for me, can it not? That craving my mind has for another cigarette, another drink, another bowl of ice cream, another game of black jack at the casino, or another 10 mph on the car’s speedometer may just be the want that cancels out my need for health or even for survival. Sometimes I have to decide between my true wants and my true needs.

And when that happens, my mind must truly decide between (A) my body that looks out for my wants but imagines them (in all childishness) as needs, and (B) my soul that looks out for my needs and has the wisdom to know my needs from my wants. The wisdom to know the difference between the serenity I need and the change (control) I only desire.

Which brings me to this day’s celebration of National Independence here in the USA.

Our nation is divided by desire.  If recent poling is accurate, then 71% of us want something other than what we have, even in terms of our own government. We are, by a large majority, dissatisfied with the direction our nation is going.  Yet our differing wants and desires divide us terribly.  And create much social contradiction.  We have to a great extent convinced ourselves that our own wants are the right wants, because they are also our needs. We have to have change or else. We have to have what we want to have. And so we are strongly divided by our wants and desires as a nation.

But what if the changes we want were to cancel out the stability we need? What if we crave change but really need stability?  What if we crave control but really need influence?   What if the change and control we want cancels out the very stability and influence we need?   This makes our voting decisions rather tough, indeed. It means we must choose between high change and low stability, high stability and low change, or some more even balance of the two.

Yet, it is this freedom to choose, to make even the tough decisions as citizens, that we celebrate today. For even though these tough decisions at the voting station may not be what we want, they are what we and our government of the people, by the people, and for the people really do need. Especially now when, as a divided people, our wants and needs so often contradict.


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