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On OkCupid.com (primarily a dating website, but also a social networking website), one of the sections of each person's profile is titled "The six things I could never do without". From February 2010 to February 2012, I wrote three different answers to this essay prompt. I want to share the answers for two reasons. First, they generally provide some insight into how I think about life. Second, they reference issues and ideas that later I want to write more about. Until I find time to fully explain all 48,000 ideas I have, this can introduce some of the concepts.
Honestly, I am not fond of this essay prompt. On the one hand, I was born with a tendency towards asceticism, and I would like to believe that I could live without anything. On the other hand, that's stupid.
On two occasions, I have traveled for a month with only one backpack. So I guess the "things I could never do without" were in the backpack. (I am interpreting "things" to mean physical objects rather than more abstract "things" like "love".)
In no particular order:
1. Music. I had an iPod Shuffle and a computer with me. I am always listening to music. I like discovering new music.
2. My computer? I've been a computer geek for most of my life: first computer at age 9; first email in 1991; first computer job 1996; etc. I use my computer for music, to connect with people, to store my photography, to find information, and more. Sadly, I guess my computer is something I must have. More evidence: when I lived in China, and they would block Google or Wikipedia, it would bug the crap out of me.
3. Good food. I hated the food in China, and there were countries I loved the food more than other countries (e.g., France = great). Right now [edit: meaning when I originally wrote this in spring 2010], I live in a gourmet desert, and it is stressful, so I guess good food. But, if we need to be more specific, then: meat. And if you want even more specific, then: bacon. I love bacon. (No, I didn't carry bacon in my backpack.)
I didn't have much else in my backpack: clothes, toiletries, maps, and my camera. I could live without my camera though.
4. Regular access to bathing, with hot water. Yes, I need that. If I don't take a shower in the morning, then I am not very friendly. And I need hot water. A bath is even better, if I have time.
5. Caffeine? I am addicted to caffeine. I used to drink a lot of soda, but I have switched to sweet iced tea or hot coffee. Other people may not enjoy my company until I have had my second cup of coffee. But, if I had to live without caffeine, and my addiction were broken, would I still need it? I don't know.
6. Toilet paper. Do I really need to explain why toilet paper is on this list?
1. Intellectual stimulation.
2. Creative expression. I sometimes express myself through photography, but usually I express myself through words. I like to create solutions to problems. This is different than intellectual stimulation, which is when the world teaches me something new. By "creative expression", I mean that I like to find ways to make the world better. I used to believe that if I had a solution, but nobody listened to my idea, then I had "failed." When a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, however, it does make a sound. When I realized that the tree makes a sound, I realized that I love creative expression just for the process, and it is not necessary that anyone else agrees with me.
3. Regular access to bathing, with hot water. (Also on my original list.) I am always in a better mood if I have time to take a hot bath in the morning. Besides feeling better physically, a bath/shower is my time to meditate and feel better emotionally.
4. Back scratches. Seriously. Wooden backscratchers don't count. The back scratches have to be sincere--not necessarily sexual--just sincere. (In fact, back scratches are rarely sexual for me.)
5. Affection/cuddling/touching. I've never dated a woman that liked to cuddle more than I like to cuddle. And I like back scratches so much that even though back scratches could fit into this category, I have to separate them out. I need both back scratches and affection.
6. Sexual intimacy. I don't mean just sex. I would not be happy if I only had sex but never had a connection with my partner. Sex can be a purely physical act, but great sex requires some sort of emotional connection or intimacy.
Last updated Feb 14, 2012
I've had [two] very different answers to this question, and this is the beginning of my [third] attempt to answer this essay prompt. Sort of.
I've had ascetic tendencies since I was a child, but the last few months (or two years), have been the most extreme of my life. And now I realize that this essay prompt is defective. Some people give a cute answer like "air, water, food, ...", but that type of answer is actually the only real answer to this question.
To get any interesting responses to this prompt is should read "The six things I would never want to do without". The human body and the human spirit (whatever that is) are amazingly strong and, yes, you really could do without your iPhone, your dog, your special blanket, or even your family. But just because you could do without those things that doesn't mean you would be happy and that you would want to do without those things. It's my profile, so I can change the questions. Therefore:
THE SIX THINGS I WOULD NEVER WANT TO DO WITHOUT
1. Connection. Sadly, connection is just a metaphor. I don't know of a word in any language that really describes what I mean here.
I first learned that I wanted connection when I learned to dance (swing/Lindy Hop/blues) and connection is the word we use to describe the two-way communication you have with your dance partner. In dancing, when you really connect with your dance partner, so many amazing things happen: no one is the lead and no one is the follow, you can "hear" the music through your partner, there is no need for "proper" steps or dance "moves" because you are just dancing together, and just like you know where your feet are without looking at them you also "know" where your partner's body is and what it is doing even though you can't see everything.
The feelings also transcend the dancing. I'm not saying that you feel like you know everything about the person, but the connection gives you a feeling that the dancing itself cannot give you. Have you ever been part of team that accomplished something together? Examples: win a game together, put on a show together, or build something together. Did you notice that the feeling of togetherness is stronger than whatever it is you just accomplished? That's what I call connection. And there are tons of ways to connect with other people.
To be truly happy, I need connection, and I especially need one person that our connection is deep and strong.
2. Affection. Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan, "[T]he life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Affection with someone you care about and who cares about you is a good way to solve most of those problems.
3. Abraham Maslow argues that we all need "Esteem from others", and while the phrase is bland, I think it is accurate and true. Esteem from others is different than self-esteem because, well, the esteem---recognition (of good actions), acceptance (by society), and value (to others)---comes from other people rather than from an internal feeling. Esteem from others and self-esteem are both important, and despite how similar they are, they actually come from very different places and serve very different needs.
"Esteem from others" is not a household phrase, but the concept is certainly a major part of American culture (and as far as I know, it is part of all cultures.) Think of the poem by Dorothy Law Nolte, "Children Learn What They Live". It includes lines such as "If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves." and "If children live with praise, they learn appreciation." Nolte is talking about esteem from others and how important it is in our lives.
In the business world, tons of research has focused on job satisfaction and how to improve it. Companies and executives are consistently surprised to learn that paying more money is not the best way to improve job satisfaction. Things like informal recognition ("That was a great presentation, Sally."), formal recognition (e.g., awards, promotions, an extra day off, or telling the entire department that Sally's presentation was excellent), regular feedback about job performance, trusting your employees enough to give them responsibility, valuing your workers enough to give them training, respecting your employees enough to provide flexible work options so they can have a life outside of work, and many other things that have nothing to do with a paycheck typically have more impact on job satisfaction than does a salary raise or a cash bonus. It's not immediately obvious, but all of those things are "esteem from others": recognition, valuing someone, trusting, respecting, and simply caring about the employe a person rather than thinking of them as a robot.
Think about your own life. If you could wave a magic wand, which would you choose: 1) 10% more money or 2) more respect, recognition of your efforts, trust, and kindness from the people around you? The second option is esteem from others, and studies consistently show that most people would choose #2.
During my self-imposed hermit period, I rarely interacted with other people. . . . When I did interact with other people, let's just say that they were not calling me to provide me with "esteem from others".
I want to believe that I am a good person who does good things, who helps to make the world a better, happier place to live, and who is constantly trying to become a better person. If someone is extremely vain, then maybe that person would not need esteem from others to achieve those goals. I suspect, however, that esteem from others is essential to me so I can make sure I either achieve those goals or that I am at least on the right path to being a good person.
4. through 6. I'm still thinking about these.