by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 22, 2002
WHAT WE WANT, WHAT WE NEED, AND THE DIFFERENCE
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- In a nutshell, those qualities of life we all have in common are what define human nature. I get hungry, you get hungry; I get thirsty, you get thirsty; I get tired, you get tired; I get lonely, you get lonely.
These needs, as well as those for security and self-esteem, are met in pretty much the same way universally - and, if they are not met, if we are deficient in any one of them, then other needs less imperative but still necessary, suffer.
How can you take time for justice or, say, the goodness of something or someone if you're so hungry you can't think at all? How can you worry about anything if your basic needs are not being met?
If we're starving, we may dream of roast beef, but we won't hold out for it. Grits will work, thank ya, ma'am. There is a difference between what we need and what we want, and it is human nature to try to discern it.
People with self-esteem are not enjoying an attribute, they are satisfying a natural need for recognition, for not doubting themselves, for knowing themselves so they can be true to their nature. And, along with these very basic needs - described by Abraham Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs - food, water, shelter, sex - there is a need to "move up," which can only happen when the basic needs are met.
We may strive to move up but there are forces outside outselves that push us down at every turn. Or, so it would seem if we realize Maslow was writing about human nature, universally defined, and not just the United States and the Western World.
No matter where a woman gives birth to a baby, whether in an immaculate, carpeted, mirrored, Birthing Center of a modern hospital in the suburbs or in the dirt of a field where she squats to deliver, placing her tools beside her as she first lifts the baby to her breast and then picks up the scythe to continue thrashing until sunset.
There is no difference in the nature of these women. They have brought forth a baby and their wishes would be the same: character and confidence. For the one, character to raise him to an honorable place among honorable people where character counts. For the other, character to have the strength to withstand the rigors of life as she knows it and confidence to carry it off. It doesn't matter what language she's thinking it in, or where in the world she is, a mother recognizes her role in the outcome of the baby's life.
Of course, in the patriarchial societies, her sayso ends when the man of the family dictates the direction the child goes forward. And so nature gives 'way to nurture.
If we all start out as part of this natural scheme of things, how is it that human nature appears to be so different when actually it is the core of us all. Babies and children have the same frames of reference and stories prompting morality and virtue - and just plain common sense. You don't put your finger in a fire twice. "Once burned, twice shy," is a universally spoken phrase.
"Cinderella," is a name that translates to mean the girl who sleeps near the fireplace in the home of a wicked stepmother, is told and re-told as a "goodness will triumph and not hold grudges" to teach that lesson. "Humpty Dumpty" is as universal as eggs and used as a metaphor for things that can't be fixed no matter how rich and powerful you are.
I'll ask the rhetorical question: "How can it be that we can't get along?" We all have the answer to that: there is no answer, no rhyme nor reason.
I can only suggest it's a territorial thing, a border thing, an old family feud thing in patriarchal societies, it's a power thing, a control thing, it's having someone to look down on. (My friend, Gillian, claims we all want to look down on somebody, that's why we have the town drunk.)
But none of those things comes anywhere near being part of our human nature. Having basic needs met so we can fulfill a higher need to move up is natural. And, sometimes, halfway up the ladder to our comfort zone, we might slip back because of a death in the family. Conversely, if we're at the bottom, barely meeting our basic needs, we might win the lottery ... and as they sang on The Jefferson's, "Movin' on up to the big time," from a lowly beginning.
For centuries in the Middle East, border skirmishes were settled with rocks. And, pieces of land changed hands during wars named after the number of days it took before a "cease throwing rocks," put a stop to the madness.
Envy and greed are not part of the hierarchy of human needs. As a matter of fact, they're part of the seven capital sins. They're often linked to someone's winning the lottery and the changes it brings to their lives through selfishness, avarice and their total ignorance to what exactly it is they have. Envy and Greed seem to propel those countries on the brink of being able to launch a nuclear weapon. They can't have what we have so they aim to blow us off the face of the earth - even if means they go with us.
Within our own democracy, there is a mini-democracy and it's right here in New York City. We joke about the cab drivers who wear turbans, and don't speak English very well. Yet, over one weekend, I had a driver from Bangledesh, another from Palestine, and still another from the Ivory Coast. They wave to each other when they pass and the passengers feel safe, never threatened. This is human nature.
And, another form of human nature comes under the guise of "Misery loves company." Only, in this case, it is a matter of human misery finding consolation in seeing others having lost a son and yet they managed to survive. Here, in America, the world comes to console a mother who loses a son. Over "there" it's one more to mourn, today, knowing you, too, will survive the loss, tomorrow. It happens every day.
And all of this is human nature: We try to meet our needs, try to satisfy our wants, and we learn to settle for whatever comes our way.