Fred Renard, sitting alone at the bar, is the nervous and compulsive type who is looking for an easy escape from the rut he calls life. Into the bar enters an old man carrying a suitcase of wares. He goes table by table asking people if they need anything and what he can provide them. When the old man comes upon a woman, she asks for matches but he can see she needs something more and he gives her a bottle of cleaning solution.
Next he comes upon a former baseball player who is down on his luck. When asked by the old man what he needs, he sarcastically asks for a new left arm. The old man gives the former baseball player what he needs, not a new left arm but a bus ticket to Scranton, PA. The former baseball player laughs at the old man and the old man moves on. The bar telephone rings and its for the former baseball player. An old player friend of his is looking for a coach for a minor league team in, of all places, Scranton, PA. Realizing it at that moment the former baseball player has exactly what he needs, a bus ticket to Scranton, PA. Excited about starting this new chapter in his life, the former baseball player looks at himself and realizes the old suit jacket he is wearing is stained and that is not a great way to start his first day as a new coach. The woman who the old man first approached, walks up to the baseball player and begins to clean his jacket with the solution provided by the old man. The two hit if off and leave the bar.
The old man, seeing his job as being done, walks out of the bar and sets up his suitcase on the street. Renard exits the bar and approaches the old man outside, seeing him as his ticket out of his rut. He asks the old man “what is it that I need?’ The old man provides him scissors. Renard, believing he has been fooled, threatens the old man. The old man assures Renard the scissors are what he needs. Renard heads for home and gets into an elevator which closes his scarf in the door. As the elevator moves up floors, it nearly chokes Renard. Renard is surprised that the old man was correct in assessing what he needed. Renard uses the scissors to cut his scarf and is saved from choking to death.
The next day, Renard seeks out the old man again, pestering him for what he needs. Renard is perplexed why the old man has such a great talent to predict the future but uses it on small things like cleaning solution and bus tickets. Renard wants to team up with the old man in order to get his life going on the right direction. The old man denies Renard but gives him a leaky fountain pen that drips ink next to a horse’s name running in a race the next day Renard bets on the horse and wins $240. When he tries the leaky pen again, nothing comes out. Renard tracks down the old man and demands he give him what he needs. The old man tells Renard, the things you need most I cannot provide you; peace, serenity, humor, and the ability to laugh at yourself. It is beyond my power to give you those things.”
Upon receiving much pressure from Renard for the next thing he needs, the old man gives Renard a pair of leather shoes. Renard puts on the pair of shoes, not knowing what to expect but trusting the old man. The old man walks away from Renard but Renard follows close on his heals. While chasing after the old man, Renard slips on the rain soaked street and is hit and killed by a car. The old man says to the dead Renard, “I gave you what I needed, you were going to kill me and I couldn’t let that happen.”
This episode is probably one of my favorites. There is a difference between what you want and what you need. Wanting is a desire, it is something extra, it is external, and it is often something that is used in an attempt to fill a bottomless bucket with the hopes of fulfillment or making you feel whole but instead it often leaves you feeling empty and/or craving more of what you thought you wanted. It can also be a desire for better things, which is not bad a thing, but not getting what you want, should not negatively impact your happiness, value, or self worth. This could be a car, clothes, money, love, a lifestyle you once had or a lifestyle you want to have, jewelry, etc.
What you need is not always a thing, it can be a necessity (like food, shelter, income) but it is also a feeling, it is internal, it is a an enhancement to your life, it is something that strengthens what you already have. Needs are basic but are the foundation of who we are. Like the old man said, “what you need is peace, serenity, humor and the ability to laugh at oneself.” A need is something that often comes from within and cannot be provided by another individual.
Let’s look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; Physiological, Safety, Love and Belonging, Esteem, Self Actualization. Physiological needs are air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, and reproduction. Safety is personal security, employment, resources, health, and property (shelter). Love and Belonging is friendship, intimacy, family, and sense of connection. Esteem is respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength and freedom. Self Actualization is the desire to become the most that one can be. As you can see from this list, none of the needs besides shelter, food, and clothing are actual items, they are feelings.
So many of us get what we need and what we want confused. When we learn to separate the two, we can better understand how each one plays into our story. Next time you say to yourself, I need this, really think, do you need this or do you want this. How is this item, this thing, this opportunity, this feeling enhancing my life? Is it something I think will complete me or is it something that will strengthen what I already have? What happens if I don’t get it? Will I lose value? Will I be less then?
In this unique time we are in of self isolation, it is a perfect opportunity to weigh the differences between want and need. We all want to resume life as normal, go out to dinner, socialize with friends, and go out shopping or performing normal tasks, but what we need is to remain home for our safety and the safety of those around us. The want is superficial, it is something that we hope by doing will make us feel whole again. What we should really be using this time for, besides keeping ourselves and others safe, is to learn to be comfortable in who we are, realizing that activities don’t make us who we are, they often fill our lives with tasks that make us feel like we are being productive when in fact they are just taking time away from us spending quality time with ourselves and loves ones. Take this time of isolation to really get to know yourself, learn how you can better yourself from within, learn to be happy with what you have and where you are, learn about what you need vs what you want, take time to self care, take time to get to know yourself and what you can do to improve your life.
The difference between want and need is small yet so impactful. My hope for all of you during this time is to learn to live a life where what you need you already have and what you want you can live without.