Musings: Needs and Desires
by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley
NS: For many of us, lockdown has been a time of frustration. But what is it that is being frustrated? To a degree it may be that we cannot easily get things that we need (e.g. an appointment with a hospital consultant), but isn’t it largely that we cannot fulfil our desires (e.g. a week in Venice)? Would we be happier sticking to meeting our needs rather than fulfilling our desires?
RJR: I think it is a great question, Nigel. And I would love a week in Venice – thank you very much! I know that we were both individually planning to do that this very month (or thereabouts). I think lockdown has brought up for people the difference between needs and desires. This subject makes me think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Do you know much about his work?
NS: Yes, I should have been in Lazio today, on my way to Rome, but a virus decreed otherwise. I had a tremendous desire to go travel through Italy, but I don’t think I can get away with calling it a need. I don’t know very much about Maslow, apart from the pyramidical diagram of his Hierarchy of Needs. Much of what this shows seems to be common sense, i.e. there are (at the bottom of the pyramid) the basic human needs that it is difficult to find fault with, such as food, water, shelter, warmth. But towards the top, I wonder if needs get mixed up with desires when he seems to include intimate relationships and – an even greyer area – prestige. Perhaps this illustrates the fact that we can all differentiate between needs and desires – but only up to a point (where things may get blurred).
RJR: That makes sense to me. So the closer people were to ‘survival’ when the pandemic began, the more they have only been able to meet their immediate and very basic needs. This time is not a leveller, but it is an eye-opener.
NS: Something that our eyes may be opened to is that our real needs are seriously essential – but few in number; and that our desires are not seriously essential – but countless. Before now, we were perhaps blind to the great dangers inherent in this approach to life.