Needs and Wants

I want Cookies, because I need Satisfaction. That’s NVC, right?

Needs and Wants: What are They?
Needs:
Human requirements to provide for our survival, health, and well-being
Wants:
Desires to meet those needs

In NVC we are taught that all humans have universal feelings and needs…that my needs are the same as yours, and that we all work to meet our needs to provide for our survival, health, and well-being. “Wants” represent desires, of varying degree and intensity, to meet those needs. These wants may give rise to strategies, which guide our actions as we work to meet our needs. Wants may also give rise to no action at all. For example, we may want to buy a plane ticket to Hawaii to meet a need for freedom, but there may be more accessible ways for us to meet that need for freedom without going to Hawaii, or other needs may take priority over the need for freedom, and so we do nothing.

To sum: Needs give rise to wants, and wants may or may not give rise to strategies to meet those needs. It may also be helpful to think of wants as avenues, or paths, to meet needs…but that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily walk down each of those paths. Here’s some algebra for further clarification: Need X, Want Y, sometimes Via Z (where Z represents a strategy; remember, just because you want something doesn’t mean you will strategize to get it).

 

Meeting Our Needs in Alignment with our Values1
So, what determines whether or not we act on our needs and wants? Many things, including our upbringing, our values, stages in life, and the community we live in. Once our basic needs are met (like food, water and shelter), we frequently seek to meet our needs in accordance with our values (things like freedom, creativity, and fun). Even our most basic needs are still often met in alignment with certain values, if we have the means.

 

Need Shifting
Even though our values help determine the strategies we use to meet our needs, our needs often change quite quickly. This is known as ‘need shifting.’ You may really enjoy meeting certain needs for freedom and self-expression which are more available to you in your mid-20s. Yet a romantic interest may enter your life, and inspire you to place more importance on connection and sharing life’s joys with another person, causing you to place less value on raw freedom. Or, in your 40s, you may place high importance on meeting needs for order and financial stability. Yet you may have a parent who gets sick and needs lots of attention and care, and your values compel you to be there for them, meeting a need you have for service…your money may soon be going to support your parent, and your schedule will likely change drastically. Your needs have shifted. For perspective, consider that some needs may be more present/important during certain periods of your life than during others:

Young ChildTeen   AdultSenior Citizen
Food   FreedomCreativitySupport
Security    AcceptanceContributionRest
Shelter     MeaningFunLaughter

 

Sure, when you are a senior citizen, you might still have a need for freedom. But the way that need can be met will likely be much more limited than when you were a teen; as a senior citizen, the strategies for meeting your need for freedom are much more difficult to envision, and may not be possible to you at all. Your physical body will not support the freedoms that you may have enjoyed at one time. You are left here with a big-picture choice: be bitter about the freedoms that are no longer available to you, or shift your needs and embrace what is available to you.


Need Shifting: Joy and Mourning
A note on need shifting: need shifting does not have to come with strife or unrest. It can be a peaceful process of joy for, and acceptance of, the new opportunities available to you to meet other needs. Of course, there may also be some loss associated with need shifting. Something that you really enjoy, and that meets highly-valued needs of yours, may no longer be available to you. For example, making frequent phone calls and writing many letters to your closest friends may fulfill your needs for connection and harmony in the ‘real world’. Yet, here, the nature of our schedule will likely not leave you with the time and flexibility you normally enjoy to make those calls and write those letters.  There may be some regret associated with this reality, and mourning will likely accompany that loss. Mourning, in NVC, means taking the time to get in touch with your feelings and needs, and to ‘be’ with those feelings without trying to fix them or immediately meet them with requests of yourself or others. In mourning, you shift your mind away from the habit of trying to solve things that it cannot solve. Giving yourself the ‘permission’ and space to recognize your unmet needs, without judging yourself or others for not meeting those needs, opens your heart to what is available to you. It is possible to treasure the needs that we are unable to meet without discounting them, while healing in their absence.

Community Needs vs. Individual Needs
In every organization there is a balance between community needs and individual needs. The gray area that exists between the community and the individual will naturally produce differing wants, which may sometimes ask us to shift our own needs. With the exception of very basic needs like food, water, and sleep, those need differences between the community and the individual are moderated by shared values and, if still unsure, further communication (see Clean Communication, NVC, and Consensus documents!). The world of wants is sometimes shadier (cue sinister music). Even though wants are seeking to meet certain needs, there are often needs and wants that fall further down on the priority list (see below for needs and priorities) Though we often think of wants as applying more to individuals, there could also be community wants: the entire community could want chocolate cake for every meal (we need happiness, and chocolate makes us happy!), yet that want does not uphold the community’s value of providing healthy, nutritious meals. In this case, the community’s values are held to be more important than the community’s want, as there are other ways to meet the community need for happiness that do not conflict with community values.