I grew up in Chicago during the Depression. At that time, in that place, a need referred to food, shelter, and clothing. Today, some wants have escalated into needs.
Recently I asked one of my granddaughters what she wanted for Christmas.
“I need a Ken doll.” (Ken, as in Barbie and Ken.)
“You don’t need a Ken doll; you want a Ken doll.”
“No, I need a Ken doll.”
Already, at age eight, my granddaughter sensed the significance of changing her request from want to need. Needs are essential; wants are tinged with greed. She did not want that stigma.
There’s a hint of something else here. Shifting an object from want to need shifts the focus from the “needy” person to the potential filler of the need. The unspoken words might go like this: “The Ken doll is a genuine need. You are able to meet that need. Will you meet my need?” Will I be a good grandfather?
Because of my long-time friend’s terminal illness, I did yard chores for him. I remember his raising the want/need condition to a different level.
“Stan, the lawn needs mowing,” he told me three times over a two-day period before I mowed the lawn.
His statement contains not only the possible hidden agenda in my granddaughter’s response, but two other items. First, the need was transferred from him to the lawn: “Hey, don’t look at me. Mowing isn’t my need; it’s the lawn’s need.” The needy person becomes the self-appointed spokesman for something outside himself.
Second, his remark is in the form of a statement, not a request, not: “Stan, would you mow the lawn, please?” I notice that many men have difficulty asking another man for help. (I learned that first by observing my own behavior.)
I believe neither my granddaughter nor my friend intended the meanings I have breathed into their statements. They may have felt a need or a lack, but feeling does not make it so. Neither product—yes, a lawn is a man-made product—is a necessity.
I don’t believe my granddaughter’s and friend’s perceptions of reality are isolated events. Their common perceptions are, I have observed, part of a national perception.
Whatever the cause for our misperception, our survival as individuals, as families, and as a nation is dependent upon knowing the difference between needs and wants.
The Advantage of Being Armed
Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
The Unfairest Taxes
In 1790, the U.S. Tariff Code consisted of a single sheet of paper. Today, there are more than 8,757 tariffs—plus lots of quotas, so-called voluntary import restraints, and other import restrictions. These trade barriers cost consumers $80 billion per year—about $800 for every American family.
East and West
In recent months I have run into many people who say that because I am an Asian-American, I must recognize the superiority of Eastern culture over Western culture, and that I should be championing the virtues of Eastern culture such as civility and respect for moral authority, the elderly, and the family.
It is true, Asian culture and civilization have contributed much to the life of the mind: In philosophy, we have the names Confucius, Mencius, Chuantze, and Lao-Tze; in literature, we find outstanding writers such as WuChien-An, Li-Po, and Tu-Fu; in art, we find great work by Tang Po-Hu; and in music, there is Kuanghan-Chin.
I value and respect what these great Asian people have contributed to improving the quality of life for both Westerners and Easterners. But, at the same time, my mind keeps returning to the West. It was Shakespeare who wrote Romeo and Juliet and George Eliot who wrote Silas Marner; Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, and Charles Dickens, David Cop- perfield and Great Expectations. Bach composed the Brandenburg Concertos; Vivaldi, “The Four Seasons.” Dante told us about hell and Milton about paradise. Plato gave us the Socratic dialogues; Aristotle told us about logic. Thomas Aquinas explained why it is rational to believe in the God of the Bible. Our Founding Fathers gave the world the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights; Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address and affirmed the important truth that all men—black, white, and yellow, Eastern and Western—are created equal.
I am on the side of those scholars and people of good will who want to encourage a great conversation among the moral and intellectual giants of both Western and Eastern cultures and civilizations. We need to understand and appreciate and read and study the great works of Eastern (Asian) writers, philosophers, historians, musicians, and artists, as well as the great works of the moral and intellectual giants of the West.
However, I refuse to believe that because I am Asian-American I must say that Asian culture and civilization are superior to Western culture and civilization. It is the West, not the East, that has been most influenced by Christ, and that has made all the difference.
—Haven Bradford Gow