I keep seeing this car commercial that aggravates me. The new tag-line for GMC trucks is:
"A higher standard of innovative engineering, design, and performance. It's not more than you need. It's just more than you're used to. "
I find the carelessness with which we throw around the word "need" troubling. What does it mean to "need" something, and how can you "need" better performance in an SUV? A need or necessity is something that cannot be done without; surely an SUV's "innovative engineering" doesn't rise to this standard.
And I'm not just pointing out GMC's semantic liberty for the sheer heck of it. I think that our perceptions of our own "needs" is perhaps the greatest barrier to our living the other-centered life Jesus calls us to live.
Its much tougher to help others when doing so means giving up something that we believe we can't live without. Thus, our perception of what it is we need is critically important. The market -- the sellers of cars and cellphones and happy meals -- has an interest in making us believe we "need" more and more things. If we believe we can't do without a cell phone, then we are very likely to buy one....
What's more, society actually organizes itself so as to make new things, if not strictly necessary, then pretty close to it. Practically nobody owned a car 100 years ago. But can you imagine holding down a job in most places in this country without one? Cities -- divided into residential, commercial, and industrial zones and spread out over tens of miles -- have developed on the assumption of automobile ownership.
Market-based economies, then, produce two things in great abundance: goods and needs (real and imagined).
So let's be vigilant and not let television commercials and billboards tell us what we need. Let's keep our perspective and remember that even without a cellphone or GMC's innovative design, we live more luxurious lives than the kings and queens of 300 years ago. By keeping our perception of our own needs down, we open ourselves up to fulfilling the needs of others.