Thursday, December 08, 2011

Wants Versus Needs: is this the key difference between radical unschooling and natural learning?

by Beverley Paine

I've worked out what I don't like about the word 'want' - it places my thoughts into the future rather than focusing on the blessings of the present.

Listening to so many people recently I felt overwhelmed by the focus and prominence given to 'wants'. It really hasn't been part of my conscious vocabulary for so long now and hearing it passionately voice over and again jolted me out of my comfort zone. Feeling at peace now that I am back to counting my blessings.

Below are snippets from a conversation I'm having on Facebook: writing, reflecting and conversing are the ways I learn optimally: voicing my insights and understandings as they arise helps me clear any remaining confusion from my mind.Muddling through thoughts about wants versus needs I wonder if this is the key difference between radical unschooling and natural learning.

I can dream without wanting - my goals and visualisations are dependent on wants. I am motivated by my needs, in particular my need to be creative, imaginative, to think laterally. My need to love others, to be there, to be caring, to be responsive, to give. My need to look after myself and my environment. Given the huge complex nature of my needs, is there any room to find time to attend to 'wants'? And if these needs are met what more could I possibly want?

Caring for the environment is a basic human need. If we soil our nest we don't thrive. And our current lifestyle soils our nests to the most incredible degree... Humanity's food chain now contains substances poisonous to the human body - many of these substances did not exist in nature a century ago. As consumers we all complicit in contributing to this undesirable situation. So caring for the environment is not a want, it is a need, a very vital one.

For example: if a baby sleeps in a room filled with cigarette smoke the baby will develop lung disorders, if not now then later in life. The quality of the air we breathe is vital to our health and to be healthy is a basic need. The provision of clean air is a basic need. We don't want clean air, we need clean air. If we think we only want it then we give ourselves the choice to ignore that need, which is just plain silly and counter to common sense.

Of course we all ignore needs in preference to wants all the time. What I've found though is that the quickest path to fulfillment of my wants is through meeting my needs. Life gets simpler, less complicated, the choices become much easier to wade through, I get to know myself better quicker.

Lately my mind has been tripping over comparative words that I and others use, such as 'better' and 'best'. Thinking about a friend's statement "I want to be a better person": this is how I spend a lot of my life, judging myself as not quite good enough or there yet... I am not interested in being better or the best I can possibly be. This moment and the choices I make now is all that really matters: if I meet my basic human needs in this moment I will be acting in a manner that ensures my survival and that will help me thrive, both in the now and in the long term, as an individual and as a member of my community.

That doesn't mean I don't make mistakes, interpret information inadequately or inappropriately or trip myself up - I do that frequently. And that's how I learn - by not be perfect.

'Want' brings the realm of choice into the area of meeting needs. I don't think there was ever a time it was a choice to meet our basic needs as humans... However, we lucky people living in our developed countries have become so accustomed to living lives of luxury we have removed ourselves from understanding and knowing what our basic needs are: when kings and emperors and the ruling class did this in times of old their empires crumpled as they became feeble-minded and corrupt, mental states which in part stem from a lack of any truly meaningful to do in a day. Fear is a tool used by those so disconnected from nature to prop up the perception of power that maintains their silly and self destructive lifestyles.

A natural education, led by understanding our nature and the nature of elements and interactions around us, is what is most needed now. We need to get back in touch with our nature and what we truly need. Wants are a distraction from the main game and the time we spend pursuing only delays the necessary inevitable adjustment.

I love how we can sit and chat about stuff like this over the internet or in our homes. My grandmother never had this kind of luxury - she could only dream about living like the 'upper classes' yet I am considered to be living on an income below the poverty line here in Australia. I am free to discuss philosophy at any time of the day whereas she would probably only find time at the end of the day and instead of doing that would choose sleep. Meanwhile, as I type this, a million tons of unbelievably high radioactive water seeps into the Pacific Ocean with unknown effects on the food chain on which billions of people are dependent and the proponents of nuclear power spend countless millions on propaganda to convince us that nuclear power is the solution to climate change...

It is only by holding the big picture in my mind that I feel empowered to make the changes that are necessary to ensure my survival.

Love and lack of judgment are so necessary to healthy development and growth. When we stray from meeting our basic needs we move into dis-ease and confusion. We can want to meet our basic needs, but meeting them in the now, focusing on making choices that truly honour our bodies, the environment in which we live and our growing sense of self within a supportive community makes more sense. Instead of saying and visualising 'what do I want to feel okay, at peace, whatever', say 'what do I need now to feel okay, at peace, whatever'. Just naming it is often enough to bring that state into being. Recognising how I am feeling and naming it, accepting the feeling as valid in the here and now, reduces the confusion in my mind, and I am able to ask for what I need. When I am clear to others about my needs others are more able to help me meet my needs. Recognising what I need and naming it - no matter what I need - brings clarity and motivation and I move in the direction that brings that need into realisation.
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