“Reason not the need” is, if memory serves, a line from King Lear in which the King is declining to discuss what he needs in terms of entourage now he’s retired. Of course he doesn’t need a vast horde of people to follow him round, costing his hosts a small fortune, but he wants them, and so he doesn’t want to talk about need. It’s an interesting example in which being reduced to having to talk about what you need feels, for some, like a loss of identity and dignity. To be important, we have to feel that we have far more than we need.
I think reasoning the need is something we could all afford to spend more time doing. Both in terms of identifying what we don’t need and could cheerfully do without, what we really do need, what we actually don’t need and would be far better off for freeing ourselves from, and what we want alongside all of that. It’s also worth asking why we want, and what meanings we are attaching to our wants. Are we, like King Lear, inclined to think we can’t be ourselves, and can’t be respected, unless a great deal of material goods, or in his case chaps with swords are part of our setup? How much are cars associated with identity and status, for example?
The question of need is one I revisit, regularly. Partly because it changes, partly because my understanding changes. In the last six years or so I’ve come to recognise how much I need good quality sleep in a bed that feels safe. I’ve learned that I need very little space to live in, but I also need access to a great deal of outside space in order to be happy and well. I need people in my life, but I also need quiet – a balance I’m constantly trying to figure out. I need to be active and I need to rest. I need intellectually stimulating experiences, and I need to minimise the unnecessary drama.
It doesn’t matter so much whether what I think I need is available to me – figuring it out helps me to shape my life. It helps me move towards the things that actually serve me, and to recognise the things that, to carry on my Lear references, mostly result in wandering round in the cold and dark feeling very confused about things. We’re constantly sold a lot of ideas about the things we can’t do without – things marketing departments wish us to purchase for the seller’s benefit, not necessarily our own.
What King Lear thinks he wants is his retinue, his pomp and ceremony and kit to give him a sense of status and significance in retirement. By the end of the play it’s obvious to him and the audience alike that what he’s wanted all along is the love of his daughters, but he’s far too proud to admit it, until they’re all dead. Life is like this. Most of us won’t make an embarrassing shambles of dividing our kingdoms and end up with war and madness to contend with. Most of us will get caught up in the surfaces of our lives, in the superficial wants that we are willing to convince ourselves are needs, so that we don’t have to even look at the needs, which might make us feel small, vulnerable and powerless.