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In Praise of Neediness

December 10, 2015

I am so needy. I always thought this was a bad thing. I never would have uttered that sentence aloud. So embarrassing.

But now I can say – I am really a needy person.

We all are.

For much of my life I lived the myth, the illusion, that I could do it all on my own.

I reveled in traveling and trying to live off a couple of dollars a day, so that I could say to myself: “I’m an adult. I did it all by myself.”

Neediness – that was for wimps. For emotional basket-cases. The clingy, leechy types. Not for the talented, tough, independent, strong types like me. I ate neediness for breakfast. I breathed independence.

What a joke. I am so in need. All the time.

Just this morning I was in need of, in no order of importance:

  • My eyes to open properly
  • The post office to function
  • My car to start
  • The electrician to remember his ladder
  • The zipper of my pants to work
  • The grocer to order soy milk
  • The toaster to behave
  • My heart to beat
  • My internet to run

There is not a moment that goes by in my life that I am not in need of – everything.

So why did I buy into this myth of independence? Where did I absorb the message that it is so important to be autonomous?

Thich Nhat Hanh writes that the world exists in a state of “inter-being”. Everything is connected; everything is dependent on everything else.

Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits writes that neediness is the beginning of a relationship with God. Neediness is the essence of Jewish prayer: “It is the need alone that God considers.”

I realized that recognizing my neediness does not bring me to clinginess or anxiety. It brings me to gratitude.

Rav Kook writes that our neediness brings us to become grateful human beings. First we are grateful for the gifts and services that others provide for us, and then we become grateful for the relationships that are behind the gifts and services. This gratitude grows into love. And then love breeds an awareness of how others are also in need, and what we can provide for them. Love is, after all, our greatest need. I doubt very much that a person can love others without awareness of his or her own needs. I certainly struggled with that for a long time. Our incompleteness allows for us to connect.

My neediness is not a failure. It is how God created me. God created a world in which we need each other. Think of our blessing after food: “Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, who has created countless souls and their needs…”. Our name, “Jew” (yehudi), comes from the Hebrew word todah (thanks). Our name reflects our essence: we are a grateful people. At our essence, we need to be most aware of our needs. It will bring us to be become ourselves – Grateful People.

[Inspired by Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions]