Do you have needs? Many people avoid thinking or talking that way because they don’t want to sound needy. But there is a big difference between neediness and need awareness. Need awareness is universal and life-giving. It is, indeed, what lies behind the creation of the world itself. Life is a need. Everything else is a strategy. Today we start a new series on those life-giving needs with a couple sacred texts and an encouragement to watch our words. I hope you will join me on the journey.
Today I start a new series on life-giving needs. Not everything that we call a need is a need; neither is it life-giving. This series will make clear those distinctions and will introduce a consciousness of needs that can release us from desperation, judgment, guilt, shame, depression, anger, fear, and neediness. There is a big difference between need awareness and neediness. The former is life-giving; the latter is life-alienating.
Given the global economic downturn that is expected to last through 2009 and beyond, many people are becoming more painfully aware of unmet needs than ever before. Economic desperation has already led to some well-publicized suicides and homicides, including an entire unemployed family in Southern California. Such occurrences will continue to make headlines. Unmet needs have a way of doing that to people: they can drive us to distraction and even to the brink of despair.
But that’s not the only way to relate to needs. Even unmet needs can be appreciated for their life-giving energy and directional creativity. Something is stirring when we become aware of needs. The early creation stories reflect that stirring when they are read from a needs-based perspective. Consider, for example, the following story that is recognized by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike:
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “We need light”; and there was light. And God said, “We need a dome in the midst of the waters, to separate the waters from the waters and need to gather the waters under the sky into one place, so dry land can appear”; and it was so.
Then God said, “We need vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it and we need lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; for signs and for seasons and for days and years. We need the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night and the stars”; and it was so.
And God said, “We need swarms of living creatures in the waters and birds flying above the earth across the dome of the sky. And we need the earth to bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind. And we need them to be fruitful and multiply”; and it was so.
Then God said, “We need humans in our image, according to our likeness, to care for the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, and all the wild animals of the earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. And we need these humans to be fruitful and multiply”; and it was so.
When all the needs were met, God saw everything that had come to be, and indeed, it was very good. (a Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tale)
I am also intrigued to read the beginning of the Gospel of John that way, substituting the word Need for the Greek word Logos:
In the beginning was the Need and the Need was with God, and the Need was God. The Need was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Need, and without Need not one thing came into being. What has come into being through Need was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Now there’s a concept! God as the primordial Need. What led to the big bang? Need. The need for light. The need for order. The need for water, air, and land. The need for life, including plants, animals, and humans. The need for care taking and companionship. The need for illumination and hope. All those needs and more come out of those stories which is why, perhaps, we so universally find ourselves in them. If they weren’t necessary, they wouldn’t be.
One of the huge distinctions that I have learned from Nonviolent Communication from Marshall Rosenberg has been the distinction between needs and strategies. Mixing up those two, especially when we get attached to the strategy, causes no end of confusion and grief. I do it all the time, and probably you do too. Any time the following words come out of your mouth, you are mixing up needs with strategies: “I need you to….”
No matter how you finish that sentence, it’s never a need. It’s always a strategy. Consider the following examples:
- “I need you to stop at the grocery store on your way home” is, perhaps, a strategy that meet your needs for ease and nutrition.
- “I need you to love me” is, perhaps, a strategy to meet your needs for affection and intimacy.
- “I need you to check the locks” is, perhaps a strategy to meet your needs for safety and consideration.
- “I need you to work a little harder” is, perhaps, a strategy to meet your needs for support and productivity.
- “I need you to tell me the truth” is, perhaps, a strategy to meet your needs for understanding and connection.
- “I need you to listen to me” is, perhaps, a strategy to meet your needs for empathy and mourning.
In every case, of course, there are other ways to meet those needs.
- You could order your groceries online and have them delivered.
- You could develop a relationship with someone else.
- You could check the locks yourself.
- You could hire an assistant to get the work done.
- You could ask someone else what happened.
- You could find someone else to talk to.
I’m not recommending any of those particular courses of action. Especially since there are an infinite number of alternatives for meeting those needs. I’m rather illustrating the difference between needs and strategies. Whenever we say the words, “I need you to…” it would be more accurate to say, “I would like you to…”. What we want is not necessarily a need.
The creation stories do not misspeak. They identify authentic, life-giving needs. Indeed, they recognize life itself as a need! And they go on to identify other life-giving needs without getting attached to any particular strategy for meeting those needs. God recognizes a need, and it becomes so.
If only life worked that way all the time! We could recognize a need, and the strategies would take care of themselves. The need would be met, as if by magic. Although some report that life works that way for them, often called the law of attraction, many more chart their courses with a great deal of planning, strategy, and design. I’m not opposed to the latter (indeed, coaches often work on the mechanics with our clients) but I do find it helpful to recognize the difference between needs and strategies.
Needs are essential; strategies are optional. Needs are universal; strategies are particular. Needs are life-giving; strategies are life-pursuing. Needs are beautiful; strategies are functional. Needs are expansive; strategies are limiting. If we don’t understand the needs we are trying to meet, then our strategies can do more harm than good.
In weeks to come we will play with this distinction in relationship to a wide variety of needs. We will come to understand the difference until it gets into our bones. We will clean up our language and see what impact that has on the quality of our lives. And when the series is through, my hope is that life will be better for us all.
Coaching Inquiries: How often do you use the expression, “I need you to…”? Would you be willing to keep track of when you say those words in the week ahead? How could you do that? How could you pay more attention to forming your words before you speak out lout? Who could become your partner in mindfulness?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
I think both poems on the occasion of President Obama’s inauguration, yours and Elizabeth Alexander’s, are fantastic. Poetry is an exercise in risk taking and vulnerability exactly because there are so many people ready to pounce on how they would have done it differently. Problem is, they are not the poets! 🙂
There was an interesting (and funny) interview with Elizabeth Alexander by Steven Colbert on the Colbert Report TV show. Perhaps you saw it. Here’s the Web link:
I have been a long time reader of yours, and look forward to your weekly newsletter, including the one today, about Barack Obama’s inauguration.
I voted for Barack Obama, and am glad he has become our President, and know there will be changes for the better. On a personal note, I, like President Obama’s mother, married a man from Africa, and have two accomplished bi-racial children.
But, I do have to take issue to compare this wonderful election with the changes that Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, etc, and their followers brought about. I don’t see most Americans even coming close to making the kinds of sacrifices they made, and none of the participants in this election did either. Although as historic as this occasion was, let’s not confuse what happened on November 4th, 2008 with all that went before to make it happen, or the sacrifices people make world-wide just to have food to feed their families. Our prayers will continue to be with President Obama and all members of his administration.
In response to the “going green” section of your recent Provision I thought I’d pass this along:www.yellowpagesgoesgreen.org. It is a way to register to STOP delivery of telephone books, saving countless trees! It is a free service. Additionally, the organization that brought thisyellowpagesgoesgreen info to me was GreenDimes. www.GreenDimes.org works with stopping catalog mailings. I believe the fee is $20/year. A short reference in Provisions could really spread the word for both of these green efforts! (Ed. Note: Here you go! Thanks.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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