Needs and wants by Glenn Schuckers

I believe some people have confused two different words. I have heard them say they “need” some things, when what they should be saying that they “want” it. Let’s look for a moment at those two words because the difference lis important.

The definition of needing something is that  it requires something that is essential or very important. On the other hand wanting means that I have a desire to possess something that while it may be serious it is not essential.


For example, living where we do I “need” a mode of transportation. Even when people lived here a hundred years ago they needed a way to get out. Today the closest store to buy groceries is about ten miles away, too far to walk and carry  necessary food items back home.I can get there is a lot of ways, on horseback, in a wagon, maybe on a bicycle or motorcycle. Essentially, though, the most efficient way to get to a grocery store, or hardware is to drive there in an automobile of one sort or another. So I think I am safe in saying that I need either a car or truck.

I may want a new car every other years or so; I may want a new Jaguar, a big honking pickup truck or a Mercedes Benz, but what I actually need is something like the fifteen-year-old Volkswagen parked  in the garage. My wife owns a five-year-old Subaru beside the Volkswagen, but that is mainly because she has owned  similar cars for probably thirty years and feels safe in them. There is also a fifteen-year-old small pickup truck kin the barn for hose times when I need to haul fertilizer, straw or lumber.

To me, a car or truck is just a way to get a specific job done. It has nothing to do with status, my view of the world or how other people see me.

I think the difference between needing something and wanting it is pretty clear.

But it looks as though others see things differently, and that is all right so long as they realize what they are saying and doing, and why they say it and do it.

I have heard a lot of people recently saying things like,”We need to get out and socialize” and “We need to watch football games” and “Kids need to get back to school so they can socialize.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-social. I like other people and getting together with a friend is something I like to do, but it is just that, something I like to do. Not something I need to do. I know that humans are social animals, that they should spend some time together with others. But lots of things are part of our nature, and just because they are part of our nature does not mean we NEED to do them.

There are some things we want to do;  we may want to sleep until noon on a rainy day. We may want to tell an unpleasant person what we really think of him, but we allow our need to work and our social conscience to overrule our basic instinct so that we can live at peace in our society.

In other words we curb what we want with the knowledge of what we really need. In a civilized society we have learned to limit our basic animal wants so that we can live together peacefully.

Likewise, we may want to watch football games, whether they are college games or professional spectacles. We (and I include myself here) may identify with  a particular team in a particular city or college. We buy its jerseys and put its team logo in car windows. We may well want to see those games in person or on television. We may even go so far as to identify with them and lose sleep if they lose. We forget that on the professional level at least, they are entertainment as much, if not more, than sport. We forget that, win or lose, the sun is going to rise the next day and that in the long run winning or losing means more to a city’s economy than to its identity.

And in school? Again, don’t get me wrong. I realize that there is a great deal of social benefit to kids being physically present in a school with lots of other kids. I spent over thirty years in public schools and always advised other parents that the best place for their kids to be was in a school with other kids.

But that was when there was almost no danger to being in a school with other kids. I know that kids get a social benefit from being in school and parents have a benefit from having the kids in school. But we can never forget a school’s fundamental mission, educate children. And in order to teach them what they need to know, they must be safe, safe from disease, safe from guns and bombs, safe from people who would do them harm. No teaching can take place, no learning can take place until children are safe. School, after all, is not a warehouse.

Everything else is incidental. Making life easier for parents, making friends, playing a game, playing an instrument or singing and dancing, these may be useful side effects of learning, but learning must be first and foremost.

We need some things and we want others, but we should never confuse what we need with what we want. We may want our team to win; we need to be safe from disease. We want to stop at a favorite coffee shop and see a friend; we need to protect society from danger and disease. If we put our own wants ahead of what society needs, society itself is in danger of dissolving  into disarray.