The tale is told of a demanding little boy who used to ask of his mother, "Mum, I want an ice-cream!" or "Mum, I want some sweets!" The mother sagely corrected the demand by saying in reply, "You may want an ice-cream, Cecil, but you do not need an ice-cream!" The little boy, duly admonished, corrected his ways and modified his demands to, "Mum, I need an ice-cream!"
This amusing anecdote does underline our propensity in life to develop our wants to become our needs. In 1973 I was engaged in some social studies at Liverpool examining how we can define poverty. Many studies have been conducted into establishing what is meant by a 'poverty level', mainly associated with the calculation of a benefits system. Back then, the burning issue was about whether or not a television could be classified as a need. I doubt today that many homes "on benefits" are without a television.
Basically our physical needs are modest and are identified as security, food, warmth, shelter and health. Our social needs may extend to community, family and companionship. Those who govern have been given a responsibility to make sure that these needs are met—and so we pay taxes. Politicians frequently complicate these basics of life. The next time you hear a politician speak, note how many times he or she says, "we need to do so and so". Of course, such a projected need is within the values of the politician concerned and we may not indeed feel any such need whatever.
Conversely, however, there is a need for any society that these days seems to be unwanted, it seems to me, much to its detriment. I am referring to our spiritual need. Societies historically have always had a spiritual dimension; but, beginning with the Enlightenment of the 18th century through communism, capitalism and now secularism, this dimension of human life in Europe is increasingly being diminished. Are we losing our social soul?