“I need a bar,” her 2-year-old voice stated, referring to a breakfast bar she sometimes eats. “No,” I said coaching her on word usage, “you want a bar.” “No, Nana! I need a bar,” she loudly restated in case her grandmother (that’s me) hadn’t been tracking her request.
Spending time with our 2-year-old granddaughter is a delight. It’s a learning experience too. Usually I think she’s the one doing the learning, but more often than not she’s teaching, reminding, or challenging me to think about something in a fresh way.
Recently that’s what happened. Living a thousand miles away, visits are concentrated in multiply days every few months. This time, as the designated babysitter while her parents and grandfather painted and readied the house for her baby sister’s summer arrival, we had several conversations about the words: need and want.
Despite persistent corrections, she never budged. Everything for her was essential. She needed a rock, a neighbor’s cat, her favorite Tinkerbell DVD, and a diaper change. On the last one she was right. But several weeks later, these granddaughter-grandmother exchanges continued to visit my thoughts. It seems my toddler granddaughter is not the only one who gets these words confused. I do too.
I fancy I need a new car, an exotic vacation, or more money. But I won’t find my real longings in any of these. More money won’t insure a happy and healthy future, foreign travels can’t guarantee an awakened world perspective, and a new car doesn’t ignite joy.
Desiring it, craving it, or wishing for it is distinct from the must-have state of necessity. Yet I’ve mixed these concepts up for much of my life. Seduced by trappings I felt would make me feel successful, I thought I needed that promotion, trophy house, or best-selling book. For what? I’m not sure now; maybe someone else’s esteem or approval.
But today I don’t need these things. Aside from life sustaining nutrients, self-supporting finances, and the freedoms of this country, I need in my life family, friends, and meaningful work.
Yet my wants are growing. I want world peace, equality, trust, and love in the world. I want diseases cured, children educated, hunger eliminated, and an enduring planet for everyone’s children and grandchildren. I want more of what could be.
In the scheme of things, my granddaughter is right. She does need a bar when she’s hungry. But as she grows, I hope she finds her needs small and her wants, desires and dreams for this world even bigger than her grandmother’s. May each generation bring us closer to the world we imagine.
Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008), and host of “Work Matters with Nan Russell” weekly on www.webtalkradio.net, Nan Russell has spent over 20 years in management, most recently with QVC as a vice president. Sign up to receive Nan’s “Winning at Working” tips and insights at www.nanrussell.com.