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Amazing Possibilities!

  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly

Confused About Needs and Wants

One of the biggest obstacles to generosity is our confusion around needs and wants. When we believe our wants are needs, our values become distorted. It’s okay to want things. We were created with that capacity for a reason. But our desires serve us best when they are engaged intentionally, rather than being allowed to rule our lives.

One of the biggest mistakes we make in life is confusing needs and wants. Think about it. What is a need? Formulate a definition in your mind. We often say, “I need this,” or “I need that,” but what definition of need are we operating under?

A need is something that is essential to survive. Needs are necessary to sustain life. Most of what I think I need is not essential for survival. A want, on the other hand, is something we desire but can live without. We need so little and want so much.

Meanwhile, the world is full of desperate need and destructive want. When we put our wants ahead of other people’s needs, we abandon our humanity. Which other people? That is the question of questions, one of the biggest questions of all. Which other people? When it comes to both world affairs and our individual quest to live authentically, this is a huge question. Which other people? All I will say here is that the more we grow in wisdom, the more people we tend to include in our answer to the question. Which other people?

Now, here is today’s generosity habit.

Ask a homeless person her name. Ask a homeless person how he ended up living on the streets. Our names and our stories are important, theirs are too. Give them some money or offer to buy them some food too, but do it with dignity by engaging them as human beings. Keep in mind, that many stores won’t let homeless people enter, even to buy something.

Give to them in a way that ennobles them, in a way that reminds them that while the world may seem indifferent to them, there are still some people who care. Everything you do and say in that interaction should say, “I see you. I hear you. You matter. I am with you. I care.”

And remember, when it comes to a homeless person, the important word is person.

Matthew Kelly

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