Confusing Needs: Creatively Use & Respond to Change

My partner barged into the bathroom, on a mission. He flung open the vanity drawers, grasping at the contents. He sighed when he couldn’t find what he was after. “Do you know where the scissors are?” Slightly perturbed that my relaxing morning shower had been interrupted, I bit back “Which scissors? Do you need to cut your finger nails, or..?” This wasn’t the right answer apparently. “I need to open the soy milk container” he mumbled on his way out of the bathroom, presumably to turn upside down a drawer elsewhere in the house.

He didn’t need scissors at all. He needed to open something.

We can be a misguided lot. We don’t need a lot of things we say we do. We don’t need a shovel. We need to dig a hole. We don’t need a car. We need to get ourselves and our things from one place to another. We don’t need a house. We need a place to live–which can mean different things to different people. We don’t need to go grocery shopping. We need to eat.

I think this tendency to mix up what we need and want (or are use to in a particular situation) restricts our ability to come up with creative solutions. If one is dead set that food comes from the supermarket, what are they going to do if the supermarket shelves are bare, or they can’t afford to make the weekly trip? They’ll probably spend a lot of time agonising over the situation rather than targeting their energy at putting food on the plate. Likewise the house example. Not only do we think we need a house to live in, there are expectations as to how big that house should be, how many bedrooms, what sort of appliances it is fitted out with, and how it blends in with the rest of the street. With the number of people struggling to afford their rent across the world, or worse, living rough, this seems like an arbitrary way of looking at the situation. Some argue that it’s about dignity. Does dignify really require three bedrooms and a dishwasher?

By thinking the only way to put food on the table is to go to the shop, the novel ideas of swapping, moneyless economies, growing your own, and trade and barter don’t get feet. Rather than considering how it might possibly work, it’s too easy to say that it won’t or can’t. Simply because it is so distant from our current ways of addressing the situation of feeding ourselves. Passionate productive gardeners are still called hippies.

What’s the moral of all this, you ask? The permaculture principle: Creatively Use and Respond to Change. By change, it isn’t meant economic collapse or natural disasters, necessarily. It can simply be a change of consciousness. Perhaps you realise that living in the normal house and buying your fruit and vegetables from Coles is risky or not as good as it seems. What if you lost your job? What if there was a disaster? The cost of running your big house in the suburbs is getting higher and higher each year. You read an article about pesticides and fungicides on commercial vegetable crops–you’re worried about your iceberg lettuce from the supermarket. None of these situations need be addressed by throwing your arms into the air and giving up. There simply isn’t just one way to address them. By understanding that you don’t need scissors to open the packet–perhaps there is a better, more efficiency way–you can appreciate that the world of problems isn’t as you see it. Problems can become opportunities.

Oh, by the way, we used to a knife instead. Did a fine job of opening the Bonsoy.

16 thoughts on “Confusing Needs: Creatively Use & Respond to Change

    • Thanks for the comment, Seedtoseed. To some, the idea of being an ontological skeptic is exhausting. “Why question thing? Just get on with it!” But to not question is to not innovate. Anybody that has started a vegetable garden has questioned something along the way. Anybody that has gone from the driving a car to catching at bus has too.

      I started to minimised my material possessions a couple of years ago. I questioned everything I owned. It was a simple question: “To what end?”

  1. Yes! Well put. Where does food come from? The supermarket. Substitute ‘supermarket’ with ‘my backyard/my neighbour/my local farmers market etc.’ and change the world.

    • Thanks Angela.

      There’s a false dichotomy surrounding growing your own food. A picture is painted that it requires back-breaking labour. Those that try to be more self-reliant age rapidly, experience no pleasure, and die young. The alternative: hover cars, high standard of living, and the chinking champagne glasses of progress. You and I both know it’s nonsense.

  2. What a beautiful, eloquent post! I try to live my life by that very principle : use alternative ve methods to solve life’s problems.

  3. Looking at needs and wants as 2 very separate things. We are conditioned to want from when we are very small but knowing what we actually need is something that most of us have to find out the hard way. Learning to problem solve is also actively disuaded but is becoming a most necessary skill with ever rising prices and belt tightening the norm. Cheers for a great post and for giving me pause for thought. Welcome to my RSS Feed Reader by the way…hopefully its not too cramped in there for you 😉

    • This comment is a ripper, Narf.

      The expectations we have by the time we can make decisions are absurd and heavily skewed to benefit institutions we don’t care about. To satisfy the needs of a human being is really simple. Bit of food. Bit of shelter. Bit of entertainment. Clothes. Some relationships. We have really complicated things. By all means, we should enjoy some of the markers of advancement—cooking is one of those things—but not come completely absorbed so much so that our primary concerns are ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’.

      Marketers attempt to solve the problems for us. In fact, they go beyond that—they create problems out of thin air and offer to address them.

      Thanks for adding me to your RSS.

      • I HATE middle men…the scourge of society and they are always sniffing around the precipice of “trending” to see what they can manipulate and make money out of. The most telling pointer to a societies true wealth is how happy they see themselves and many people living in third world countries who barely meet their needs report feeling much happier than most people living in first world countries who are, in comparison, rich. Its all a matter of personal perspective and what you are able to do with your personal resources. Keeping the populace wanting is the only way to keep them purchasing 😉

      • The scary thing is, entrepreneurs are looked at as being the social ideal. The rhetoric constantly goes on about how the values of countries like Australia and the USA, are built on people that have taken a risk with small business. Lobbyists like Gina Rinehart are very active in this debate. Ironic, seeing she inherited her fortune.

        I posed a question on Reddit yesterday:

        Should the global south be helped to achieve the standard of living enjoyed by the global north? We in the global north seem to think that this is self-evident. That of course they should strive for the same standard of living most of us enjoy. But to allow this sort of development has huge environmental and cultural consequences and makes the assumption that our standard of living is best.”

      • Yeah…good old Gina eh? It’s amazing what a tonne of moolah will do for a bit of political sway. Here in Tassie we are subject to corrupt government on both sides. The environmental department is a joke. More like Officer Barbrady from Southpark “nothing to see here folks…move along…” when it comes to underhand deals and the nefarious fact that 50% of the Tasmanian population are illiterate and that education isn’t prized here in the least should come as no surprise. Its amazing how easy it is to subjugate an undereducated populace.

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