Sunday, February 7, 2010

Needing to Be Needed

In the early 80’s Disney put out made-for-tv shows called The Disney Sunday Movie. Some of them had surprisingly impactful values and morals mixed in with the humor. One such movie was called “The Last Electric Knight.” (Also known as "Sidekicks".)

In the movie, an ill and elderly Asian martial arts instructor who immigrated to the United States with his young grandson is pressed by a social worker to find a replacement parent for his black belt grandson when he dies. The grandfather explains urgently but gently to the social worker that it’s not enough to find someone who will just provide for his grandson.

Social worker: Mr. Lee, what will happen to Ernie when you die?
Grandfather: He will morn for me.
Social worker: But who will take care of him?
Grandfather: The Creator! He takes care of us all.
Social worker: Mr. Lee, I think you know very well what I’m talking about. By law I am required to make certain recommendations. Unless you can give me something else to go on, I am going to have to recommend that he be placed in some kind of foster care with someone who can provide for him.
Grandfather: Take Ernie away from me?
Social worker: Provide for him.
Grandfather: Might I not have some time to…as you say…give you something to go on?
Social worker: How much time?
Grandfather: Enough time to find someone who will need Ernie when I am gone.
Social worker: (interrupting) No, not someone who needs Ernie. Someone who can take care of him.
Grandfather: Ernie does not need to be taken care of. That is self evident. Ernie needs to be needed. We all do. Do you not need to be needed, Ms. Blake?

The fact is humans have certain needs. Beyond the physical needs for food, water, air, semi-regulated temperatures and sex, there are emotional needs.

Humans (and some other mammals like dogs and dolphins) legitimately need for their emotional stability and happiness: Social outlets, creative expression, independence, to give and receive affection. They also need to be needed.

That is, they need to feel useful. To feel like their life, their efforts matters. That they are contributing to someone or something bigger than themselves.

It’s a very important trait that separates us from self serving and often cold blooded creatures. You never hear about an alligator dragging a person from a burning building to save their life. And snakes aren’t exactly known for their warm and generous natures.

People on the other hand are born with an urge to do for others. Often this is to draw attention to themselves or for self serving reasons. But not always. Some shun the limelight except to draw attention to a genuine need.

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