The Needs Of The Many

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” Mr. Spock, The Wrath of Khan

This has been a conundrum I’ve wrestled with more or less endlessly over my life. I’ve come to see that this has been a function of the tightknit rural community I was raised in, and luckily, my desires were never too far out of the norm that I was never forced to completely rebel in order to be who I am. I’m considered odd, but not outre.

But weighing my needs and desires against the needs of the group has weighed more heavily on me, with my background, than perhaps it does with the average Westerner. After all, we have an individualistic ideal, a hedonistic approach to life, and strive towards self-actualization. To contrast this, recall that many modern cultures, and the cultures from which we ourselves descend have an iron-clad conception of duty and honour above all — personal fulfillment and happiness were not a consideration if they conflicted with the overarching pattern of things.

It seemed to me to be and unsolvable paradox, until I realized that I talk about these paradoxes all the time in my client sessions—– and there aren’t any unsolvable paradoxes. They simply require a shift in perspective.

And I realized that I had too broadly interpreted the phrase. The needs of the many. Typically, when we talk about needs these days, we’re referring to emotional fulfillment. Basic needs like food, shelter, safety and respect are considered a given, and therefore often excluded from consideration.

But that’s exactly what we need to consider.

Too often, we attempt to make people responsible for our needs: It makes me insecure when she flirts. If we don’t hold hand in public, he doesn’t really love me. My boss is a prick and I hate my job because of her.

So it’s pretty easy to extend the concept to: well, if I leave my marriage/become a vagabond/choose to die, it might make me happy but all these other people will be adversely affected. The needs of the many, and all that.


It can be sticky, no question. But often, I found that all my inaction did was insulate others from reality; from chaos, change, tumult, and the potential of pain.

I would rather suffer myself than potentially cause others pain.

Which is kind of dumb. You are not responsible for the reactions of others. You’re not responsible for their happiness, their complacence, or their contentment. Spock didn’t mention any of that.

As a human being, you’re responsible for their NEEDS. It’s not worthy of you to act in such a way that deprives other human beings of food, shelter, or self-respect. Everything else is fair game.

Now. What kind of ideas does that give you?


11 thoughts on “The Needs Of The Many”

  1. this makes me think of trust.  how, when we’re trying to control the emotional experiences of others we’re lacking a trust that they can inhabit their own life and handle their own feelings in the best way that they know and are violating their right to choose with all available information – we’re trying to keep ourselves out of the equation but it’s not possible.  when we trust other people with their own lives it’s a lot easier to be supportive and to find that creative sweet spot so you can drop the competition between their needs and your needs regardless of whether you always let their needs win or your own – setting aside the control of their experience to sit with the truth of your own can turn us into companions, and gives them the chance to tune into their own inner trust. 

    1. Yes, exactly. I was coming to terms with my own condescension in deciding to protect myself from their potential pain. What an idea! Who am I to deny people their process? It’s only a smoke screen to keep from having to interact authentically with my own.

      1. I wrote a reply that didn’t get picked up so i’m going to try it again.but mostly it said that you get to also trust yourself.  Whenever i’ve been impatient or all ‘shove over and let me mess with you.’  what was essentially under all that was one uncomfortable feeling or another I wasn’t choosing to sit with (often: I’m uncomfortable that they are in so much emotional distress that I could probably fix – yikes!) the longer i practice tolerating my own vulnerability that easier it is to sit with another person’s uncomfortable feelings with them and realize that there is a creative sweet spot where our needs are not in competition with each other.  We become companions in taking up responsibility for our own lives and our influences in other lives – dance partners – because we are all resisting being vulnerable out of lack of trust in it’s power.there’s also the part where  you earn your way into helping someone shift by not being to quick to pass over the part where you sit in their space and get a full sense of the context their in.

          1. “…It can be sticky, no question. But often, I found that all my inaction did was insulate others from reality; from chaos, change, tumult, and the potential of pain….”</i>

            Also, insulates them from the possibility of joy, and learning, and sharing in MY whatever!
            reminds me of an old saying (can’t remember where I got it from, but it was a long time ago):
            “Joy shared is doubled, Pain shared is halved” –

          2. oh boy, the subtle difference between not protecting others from you and themselves and not going into the place where you’re taking your own unacknowledged work out on them….BE VIGILANT, HEALERS!!!!

    2. Yeppers, Erin! “… trying to keep ourselves out of the equation…”  ~ that’s also not accepting our own value in the world, and in the other person’s life. They get to decide how much weight they want to give to ‘our stuff’ in their life, it’s not up to us.

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  3. I did the self-martyr thing for a long time.  Old pro here.  No more.  Occasionally I will make the deliberate choice to sacrifice something I want or even need for someone else who may or may not be important to me.  But it’s way different when I see it as a CHOICE – MY CHOICE… and it’s even okay if I don’t choose it… Than when I feel as if it is EXPECTED of me!  I am not responsible for someone else’s feelings – happiness or otherwise.  I am responsible for my actions – but I have no control over how someone else may or may not react to something I do or say or don’t do or don’t say.  I have had to let go of ownership of so much to find peace for my life.  I’m not saying I don’t care about others… I do very much so – and my actions often reflect that.  But I shed the added weight / burden of owning how others feel.  I certainly don’t own how they react! I am all about meeting the needs of others… I often try to multi-task – meet their needs as I’m meeting my own (cook two meals instead of one, etc).  So, I think I’ve at least got that base covered – and I can enjoy it because I’m released from all the rest of it!

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