“Love is donating a chunk of your life to patch up holes in the life of another.”
Richelle E. Goodrich,
I’m quickly approaching the one year mark of being a server. It’s my first serving job, and even though I don’t always enjoy it, I still really like my job. Not that I want to do this for the rest of my life. I like my job for many reasons: good management, great teamwork, positivity from most people there. But one of my favorite things about where I work is a question that everyone asks with the same exact words. Part of the teamwork at my job involves making sure tables are taken care of. So, if someone is too busy to get or do something for a table, they can ask nearly anyone else for help. And whenever help is asked for, the question is always, “What do you need?”
I love that question, because it’s not “what do you want?” It’s need. Of course, in a restaurant, ‘need’ may be too strong a word. It’s not like the servers or the guests will die if they don’t get their coke right away or their salad refill. I mean, the guests can be pretty impatient at times, but let’s not be dramatic – no one’s going to die if napkins never get to the table or if the food comes out a little late. Still, I love that question, because it makes me feel like my co-workers are looking out for me.
In my last post, I wrote about how I was unsure whether or not I love God, but I am sure that I know how to love people. A few years ago, a close friend gave me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received (and I’ve received a lot of compliments, cause I’m just too amazing to not be complimented). He told me that I find out what people need and I give it to them. I thought it was a very nice observation and something that I didn’t know about myself nor believe half the time. But for the most part, it’s a motto I try to live by. I believe that to love people, you have to give them what they need, not just what they want.
I also mentioned, in my previous post, that to Love God, you must love people. It says so in 1 John 4:21, “And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” Even if you don’t believe in God, I think it can be agreed upon that showing love for people would greatly benefit our world.
I know it’s not easy for everyone to figure out what others need, so, I’ll try and lay it out. First, the needs and theories of needs is varied and vast. There is, of course, the most famous theorist Abraham Maslow, who believed we are motivated by a hierarchy of needs. It’s important to note that there is not enough substantial research to support his theory, nevertheless it is the most highly accepted theory.
Kendra Cherry explains his hierarchy in her article, “The Five Levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs,” and says, “As a humanist, Maslow believed that people have an inborn desire to be self-actualized, that is, to be all they can be.” In order to reach our full potential, we have to meet certain needs along the way. The first four needs, “Physiological, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs, which arise due to deprivation.” We feel okay when they are met, but anxious when they are not. The highest need of self-actualization is categorized as a growth need. It’s not motivated by a lack of something, but rather to grow towards something.
W. Huitt simply summarizes:
1) Physiological: “hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.”
3) Belongingness and Love: “affiliate with others, be accepted”
4) Esteem: “to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition”
According to Huit, Maslow later differentiated the growth of self-actualization into:
5) Cognitive: “to know, to understand, and explore”
6) Aesthetic: “symmetry, order, and beauty”
7) Self-actualization: “to find self-fulfillment and realize one's potential”
8) Self-transcendence: “to connect to something beyond the ego or to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential”
Maslow believed that unless the lower basic needs were met, you couldn’t fulfill the higher up needs. This has been disproven by many other researchers, who believe we have all these needs, but don’t believe that they are in a hierarchy. In a study published in 2011, researchers from the University of Illinois tested this hierarchy and found, “while the fulfillment of the needs was strongly correlated with happiness, people from cultures all over the world reported that self-actualization and social needs were important even when many of the most basic needs were unfulfilled.”
Other theorists, such as William James and Mathes, proposed that there are three levels of human needs, which include, “material (physiological, safety), social (belongingness, esteem), and spiritual.” It is much like Maslow’s, but doesn’t include self-esteem and security. Alderer suggested that there was only “existence, relatedness, and growth” needs. Other theorists believe personality plays a role in our needs, such as how extraverted or introverted someone is. Ryan and Deci believe we have three needs that are not hierarchical, “the need for autonomy, the need for competence, and the need for relatedness.” The Institute for Management Excellence says our needs are: (1) security, (2) adventure, (3) freedom, (4) exchange, (5) power, (6) expansion, (7) acceptance, (8) community, and (9) expression. The theories and theorists go on and on.
Huitt points out that though there is little agreement on human basic needs, “bonding and relatedness are a component of every theory.” Clearly, in every person and in every culture, this is important to us. Huit also points out something I agree with, “Therefore, it seems appropriate to ask people what they want and how their needs could be met rather than relying on an unsupported theory.”
The best thing to do to find out what others need is to ask. Often, what people need is very small, such as help with the dishes, some more attention, being told something encouraging, giving someone their space, providing food, etc. Miki Kashtan explains that our needs constantly change, because we can never fulfill all at once. When we focus on getting enough money to buy food and pay for rent, we may neglect spending time with others. When we focus too much time and energy on helping others, we may neglect focusing on ourselves.
Of course, a lot of people don’t know what they need, and I think that part of showing love towards them is to try and figure it out. Understanding why people need what they do is a big key factor in being able to give it to them. My favorite part about being a coach, and particularly working with middle schoolers, is helping them grow. This is part of their need to self-actualize, which for them means building confidence and self-esteem. I remember middle school being among the most awkward and horrible years of my life. So, it’s very rewarding to be able to help my students in small ways and see them progress.
My team every year mostly consists of girls, and I’ve learned that around this age group is when girls drastically lose a lot of confidence in themselves. That’s why my number one priority is to help them accomplish skills so that they can believe in themselves more. I like to tell them that “I can’t” isn’t part of my vocabulary and that I don’t know what it means. I don’t allow them to say those words. I explain to them that they just haven’t been able to do it yet, but they can eventually. I heard them muttering “yet” all throughout last year after I told them this. It was pretty amusing.
Our needs are so varied, and there are so many we can choose to help others with. It’s not our job to help them with all of them, nor are we capable of doing so. Waitley suggests that you ask someone you care about, “what life would be like if time and money were not an object… if he or she had all the money and time needed to engage in the activities and were secure that both would be available again next year.” Then ask them what is keeping them from doing those things. Once you find out their obstacles, you can try and help solve them.
Now, it’s really important for me to mention that help shouldn’t ever be given reluctantly, because neither should love. Though I like to find goodness wherever I go, I’m very well aware that when I ask for help at work, sometimes my co-workers get annoyed. Sometimes, no one wants to help. More often, they are just too busy, because they have their own tables to take care of. There are those who ask, “What do you need?” because they really desire to help, and those who ask the same question because they feel obligated to help you. Often, we tend to help those who have already helped us.
Obviously, we don’t live in a world where everyone loves each other and wants to sacrifice their own time and resources to give someone else what they need. That world would be pretty amazing and filled with a lot of selfless people. Instead, there are a lot of selfish people, and mostly people who are only willing to go out of their way for a loved one, but not a stranger. Christians should be well aware that we are commanded to love our friends and our enemies. Luke 6:27-28 (NIV) says, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Christians often hear that we love because we are loved. Thus, we aren’t commanded to love others out of the goodness of our hearts, but instead God’s love should flow through us. God has loved us even though we constantly make mistakes and stumble. He shows us how to love others. I know that even for some Christians, that isn’t enough to convince us to love everyone, even more so for the non-religious.
I don’t think I can convince anyone why it’s important to show love to strangers and enemies. I think if it’s not already obvious, I can’t sway someone to make it obvious. I will explain how I try to show love to my friends and family (showing love to everyone else is an ongoing process). One of my best friends that I’ve known for eighteen years, once told me she didn’t want to ask me for favors because she didn’t want to burden me. When she told me this, I realized it was my job to make sure I never made her feel that way, or anyone else I love. I can’t say I do this very successfully, but I try very hard. When people feel like a burden, they don’t ask for help, so it’s important to me to make others feel like they can ask anything of me. It doesn’t mean that I can jump at everyone’s request, but I want them to know that if I can help, then I will.
Showing love for others is more than a commandment – it’s a necessity. When we don’t want to be loving, it becomes a sacrifice to do so, which makes it that much more important. How much would you sacrifice for your partner, your best friend, or your family? How much would you sacrifice for a stranger? It’s the small things – a kind word here, a dollar there, or listening without interrupting. Sometimes people need very little, and sometimes they need a lot. Are you willing to ask someone what they need?