With only 14 shopping days until Christmas, a correspondent inquired as to the difference between needing, wanting and loving anything from a PC game to a trip to the Bahamas to true love and to a peaceful world. The season of shopping and greed ... um ... peace and love ... is over, but not the question.
As I see it, we need very little. Water, air, food, shelter from the elements and clothing. If we do not wish to survive, we do not even need these.
My correspondent, who is French, of course, says we need sex. I'd question that. I'd agree to the stipulation that we probably need some form of affection in our lives.
Mais, oui, we often want sex and want sex often. But need? What will happen without sex? We'll be a little irritable? We'll squirm? We'll soil our bedsheets? That's about all I can think will happen. Not exactly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
We want everything under the sun, but especially what we see others enjoying (in commercials). We want convenience and well-being and ease, but we also want the things that will make us feel so much more powerful, handsomer, desirable. Hence the market for sports cars.
Want is our problem. We desire much we do not need for our survival or even our well-being, whereas necessity, true need, is the mother of invention. The less we need, the more we merely want, the less creative and more consuming we become.
Is it absolutely necessary to leave so many office buildings lit up at night, sucking in energy for no one to enjoy? Of course not.
Do we need purified water in bottles? Are purifiers? Do we need meat every day, three full square meals, ample desserts? Do we need a closet with umpteen pairs of shoes (OK, women do), suits, shirts, jackets and coats? Do we need a home with several regularly unused bathrooms, a yard, a two-car garage?
Of course not. Yet that's the normal North American dream.
I spent the bulk of my adulthood in a two-bedroom apartment that was at maximum legal occupancy (two adults, two children), without television or a car. I may have taken the odd vacation here and there, but I spent many of them on my balcony, reading detective novels in long summer days.
I was the "poorest" in my leafy neighborhood of million-dollar homes of Washington wonks and journalists. In the global village, however, I was undoubtedly a potentate, what with running water and electricity (not to mention a computer). About four-fifths of humanity do not have any version of these "necessities."
At the risk of sounding self-satisfied (I now have a TV, a car and an under-occupied apartment), the way of life into which I once stumbled was modest enough that the world -- and I mean every citizen in the globe -- could conceivably aspire to live as I did without a huge drain on resources. A (much needed) redistribution would have done the trick.
Sell one CEO's Gulfstream Jet (about $57 million) and you could get four-bedroom apartments for several African villages. Hell, several U.S. towns.
But -- aha! -- who's going to be the first to step forward? How do we let go of our wants and focus more precisely on our real needs?
For that we need love. The love we all want, the love we all want to give and are sometimes too scared to part with, the love others need and deserve.