Value and the Burden of Neediness


NOTE: Understanding the process by which people assess and create value is crucial to living well  in every arena of endeavor. This is the first post in an occasional series designed to lay out the dynamics by which this mostly invisible process affects us.

Being human means having needs. Some of those needs are negligible. We won’t die if they aren’t met. Think about the way people “need” more channels included with their cable package, and you’ll see what I mean.

Other needs are much more serious. Everybody needs food, clothing and shelter, for example. Those are the obvious ones. Go awhile without having those needs met and pretty soon you won’t be needing anything. The only way to stop needing is to die.

Needs can be external or internal, material or spiritual, biological or psychological. Given the materialistic culture we live in, it’s easy to overlook the inner spiritual needs. That doesn’t mean they aren’t real. In fact, it is with these needs, especially when they are unmet, that we tend to grow most obsessed.

The upshot is simply this: to be a human being is to be needy, incomplete, often desperate. Therefore, human beings have an inborn system of value that springs directly from our nature as beings dependent on others and on the environment around us. Understanding this value system is absolutely crucial for achieving anything worthwhile.

So, what does it mean to value something?  To value something is to see in a person, object, place or practice a means to alleviating some of the constant pressure our neediness. What helps us meet our needs, we value.

This simple dynamic affects every aspect of human existence, and yet it is something most rarely reflect on consciously. As in most things, a lack of reflection on this topic limits us and keeps us moving on automatic pilot, programmed by our poorly understood, half-conscious impulses.  To snap out of this spell, we must understand how our nature influences our relationships and behaviors.

Because human being are inherently needy, our relationships with one another necessarily have a transactional element to them. We form relationships with others in order to acquire those material and psychological goods we need. This doesn’t mean every relationship is a mercenary one. It means though that we can never relate to one another as completely self-sufficient beings. Indeed, if we were capable of complete self-sufficiency, we’d have no need to relate to others at all.

Since we must always relate out of our needy natures, we must always be looking for value. We cannot forget our neediness, not for a moment. This is true for every human being.

How then do we account for the wide variation in people’s attitudes and behaviors?

We account for them by recognizing that while all human beings are needy and are seeking means of fulfilling those needs, the specific means and objects we seek vary according to our personalities, individual biology, history and context. Thus, the hard-charging go-getter and the reclusive layabout are both employing strategies designed to acquire for themselves outcomes they value, outcomes they believe will, in one way or another, relieve some pressing need.

So, VALUE is fixed, everyone desires it, but “values” vary from person to person. This is because every person is pursuing a strategy for getting his needs met. He is pursuing those things he believes will fulfill some inner piece of himself that is crying out with longing. Because these strategies vary, so too do the specific items, behaviors and opportunities a person seeks to advance his strategy.

Given this context, the effective person is always thinking about value, about what he values and what value he creates. The more he focuses on creating value for others, the higher his stock rises. If he consistently provides others with something they recognize as useful for advancing their strategy for fulfillment, he will earn their appreciation.

It turns out then that the chief means of acquiring the goods for meeting our own material and psychological needs is through creating value for others. As we do this, rewards that gratify and sustain flow back in our direction. Eventually we see that it is a practical, as well as a moral truth, that in helping others to meet their needs, we lay our hands upon the mechanism for meeting our own.


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