I find myself in the odd circumstance of realizing that most, if not all, of my needs, broadly defined, are being met at this moment despite my cancer diagnosis. I say that’s odd because I’m not sure I could have said that as confidently beforehand.
However, just as soon as I started to think about that I realized that the concept of “need” requires some definition. So that’s the exploration that I’m asking us to pursue together this evening. Has dealing with cancer, as a patient or as a caregiver, caused you to think differently about what you need as compared to what you want?
I thought I might rely upon Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as the paradigm here. But now that I’ve done a smidgen of research about what that hierarchy includes, I’m discovering (anew? Damn, but I hate not knowing what I’ve forgotten!) that those levels are not necessarily well-defined, and that furthermore I’m not entirely sure I agree with his levels after all. Still, it seems to be worthwhile to have something as a common base for discussion here, so below I’ll provide one version of his steps on the pyramid.
Of course, there are some biases inherent to the system. As much as possible, I ask you not to get distracted by them but instead let them prompt you to think about your own personal configuration of a hierarchy of needs, whether it comports in all details with Maslow’s or not.
The other important element of his system is that he presumes significant development cannot take place unless the lowest level of needs is met, and so on. (In this regard let me add as an aside that he appears to disagree with Jean Piaget, whose concept of development as I understand it is more like a spiral, in which children and adults circle back around to address increasingly more sophisticated versions of various “needs.” Oh, and one more parenthetical remark: the resemblance between these seven levels and the seven chakras must be mere coincidence, no?)
All right, enough preliminaries. Here is one representation of those different levels, starting from the most basic and moving toward the most exalted:
1. Physiological fundamentals (air, water, food, clothing, shelter, sleep, sex)
2. Safety and security
3. Love and community
4. Esteem and competence
5. Cognitive activities
6. Aesthetic pursuits
All false modesty aside, I am not exactly in a position to pursue activities that are exclusively related to the seventh level. Most of my day is devoted to activities and practices that relate to the first three levels, with smatterings of attention to the second set of three (that is, levels 4-6). There’s no question, however, that I do feel better, more centered, and more healthy when I do address “needs” that presumably fall under Level 6, such as listening to music or creating some. And on the other hand, I have no real way to assure myself of Level 2 as it applies to my physical condition; I can behave as though I am healthy but it’s always now at least a little bit of an act of faith.
In that regard, in fact, I wonder if Piaget weren’t onto something important: we never are without the need for beauty, and one way or another we will seek to be engaged with it even if our resources are limited. That may be a topic for another conversation, but maybe not. Again, I’m really curious about what you have found are genuine “needs” for yourself in contrast to “wants.”
I’m not trying to dismiss or disregard the real need that human beings have for personal fulfillment, which is an amazingly varied process/objective for most of us to define, let alone to pursue. And perhaps that, too, is something that we cannot afford to neglect even when our other very basic needs are at stake. Those ideas about who we are and what we can be keep us going.
Let me also admit that I have plenty of trivial wants, too. At the moment, I really want a dishwasher. I don’t like to wash dishes, never have. My daughter is rather phobic about it, and it’s not worth it to me at this point to press her on the issue. My husband often has dish-duty, usually with good cheer, but there are stretches like now when he is just not available. So I am thirsting after a nice, quiet, portable dishwasher, since we don’t own the house we live in and can’t install one. Even though our TV went kaput several months ago, the dishwasher outranks a new TV on my personal wish list.
A want of much greater duration, frivolous though it is, is for a pair of beautiful Italian leather boots. I’ve lusted after them since I was a young graduate student traveling in Europe, and marveling at the elegance of the women in Florence, all of whom seemed to walk on little doe feet, as I called them then. I can’t wear heels any more, so some elegance would certainly be lost, but I still covet some really, really nice leather boots. Maybe someday.
Truth is, as long as I can keep working on the issues contained within those seven levels of needs, I really don’t want for much. I feel very, very, very lucky.
What about you? Any secrets you want to share, or illusions you want to dispel? What do you think about Maslow’s ranking anyway? Do you see that differently now too?
Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.