Ignatieff is concerned about whether we can talk about the needs of others and to what extent. He meditates on King Lear’s fate, who is torn from familial obligation and forced to justify his own needs and is in the end reduced to bare nakedness. King Lear’s power deceives him into believing that this need is law over his daughter’s love.
The author is conveying that no one person has the same needs beyond our basic needs; food, water, clothing, shelter. Individuals have different needs. Some people need to be around others while others do not have that social need. Some people are content with the status of their livelihood while others pursue riches. Who has the right to question someone’s needs? Lear reasons not only as a father but also as a man. To reason any man’s needs, he says, is to presume that he lacks the capacity to know his own mind. Ignatieff questions whether we really know our own needs. I hear myself often asking students, “What is it that you need?” “How can I help you?”, but many times they are not able to articulate what they need. At times I find myself offering the language they are searching for or helping them to find that language.
Throughout life we express a need to fit in, to belong. Ignatieff writes that belonging is perceived as fixed, permanence, familiarity. But many times this feeling or need is not adequately expressed through language, in which the need may really be a need to feel good about oneself. This inability to use the correct language to express an internal need of fulfillment can lead to believing the need is to belong or fit in. This tends to over shadow individuals ability to discover themselves or find fulfillment. Ignatieff writes that in today’s world, our profoundest political conceptions of human dignity are paired with the idea of equality.
Respect…who deserves it and who does not? Respect is a common request in school, at home towards parents, towards law enforcers, politicians, etc. This is a common theme in my workplace, who is entitled to respect? Who deserves it and who should earn it? Ignatieff quotes Shakespeare in stating that respect is constituted by difference: by their wisdom, kindness, kingliness, natural authority, beauty, rank and stature. But Ignatieff writes that humans have much more in common than this. As humans, our needs are greater than the needs of our bodies. We are creatures of reason and speech, and it as creatures who, alone of all the species, can create and exchange meaning that we all have intrinsic needs for respect, understanding, love and trust. I was raised to believe that every human being deserves respect, every human being is equal and I should treat them as such. Unfortunately, in our society, welfare is seen as a source of shame. Ignatieff questions the welfare system and whether it can meet the needs of individuals who themselves cannot express their own needs.
Which is the path to human fulfillment? Each individual has their own idea. Should anyone person have the right to decide another’s needs or another’s path? Every time we consider the needs of our clients, it should be done in the context of their expressed need and not our own.
Ignatieff, M. (1984). The needs of strangers (1st ed.). New York, NY: Viking Penguin Inc.