Thursday, July 19, 2012

iNeed vs. iWant

What are the fundamentals which are truly necessary for our human existence?

I remember creating a "Wants and Needs" flip book in Mrs. Wright's "Promise" class back in 1st or 2nd grade ("Promise" was the elementary gifted & talented program in Oklahoma City Public Schools when I was young).  I remember drawing my bed and my house and food as "needs".  I don't remember what any of the specific "wants" were, but Castle Grayskull or some other Masters of the Universe related toy was probably on the list.

Each time I travel to part of the under-developed or developing world I am often confronted yet again with the question of our needs versus our wants.  Often our cultural mindsets and world views lead us into a skewed reality of this important divide.

I had actually started thinking of this topic for a blog posting while in Pena Blanca, Honduras, and now during the last 45 minutes remaining on the flight to Jakarta, Indonesia, I find that the same quandary is still apropos.

My church missions team helped to building a house for a family of five near Pena Blanca.  I posted a couple of pictures of this structure in a previous entry.  When does our need for basic shelter shift from a "need" to a "want", or can is shift?  I'm single and have a 1150 sq ft house with indoor plumbing, three bedrooms, and an attached garage.  Compared to this new 280 sq ft one-room house cherished by the Honduran family I have to wonder is my home a "want" or a "need".  I ask this knowing that by American standards, my home is definitely considered "modest".

Likewise, when does food cross from being a "need" to a "want"?  I remember how happy two young girls in rural Malawi were when I gave them a skewer of field mice; this is a national delicacy in Malawi and I had only bought the skewer from a roadside vendor for a simple photo opportunity.  Something so repulsive smelling by my standards was like a Thanksgiving feast to these two girls.  If we have enough food to eat (and an overwhelming variety of options from which to choose), does turning my nose up at something indicate that food has become, even if only temporarily, a "want"?

This post isn't about making those of us in the USA or developed world to feel ashamed for what we have.  It's simply about pausing for a moment to take a reality check.  One of the goals of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program is to help students thinking critically about issues of significance, especially those of an international caliber.  I don't seek to force an answer on my pupils, but hope to inspire them to analyze information and make well-reasoned applications of what they've learned.

Such a quest is indeed difficult within the iProduct generation.  We've often confused our gadgets as absolute needs (I'm sorry for texting in class, but it was my mom and an "emergency") as opposed to wants that simply make our already comfortable life more enjoyable.  And in fairness, I must admit that the iPhone I'm using to compose this message makes communication back home a much more efficient endeavor...but is it something I "need" to use?

What are your thoughts on needs versus wants?  How has a remote road roaming experience impacted how you might think about needs and wants?


  1. For me, there is nothing like travel to help answer this question. In truth, we all have very similar, simple needs. We can exist with little, but in our American culture, of course, we forget that and confuse the question. I think it's important to teach our kids to think of it often.

  2. I've been thinking and talking about this for years - an important concept in my opinion. I posted the content of a speech I gave on the subject on my Traveler's Journal - Notes for the Journey blog -