18 July 2011

Desire vs. Satisfaction

6 July
I was sitting in the senior section staff room writing when Tenzin, my friend who teaches Tibetan, began to argue with some of the female teachers.

"I don't care, I just want his money. You can never have too much money," said one teacher, looking up from her Apple laptop to discuss a very rich yoga master.

"Then you are greedy," said Tenzin.

"Maybe I am greedy," she replied, "but I still wouldn't mind having his money. I don't care about his yoga."

Another teacher piped up. "Humans have an unlimited capacity to want," she said.

That was the last straw for Tenzin.

"What? You think people can't be satisfied with what they have? Maybe there are some people who always want more but they are greedy. Hey!"

He was talking to me. I looked up from my notebook. "Yes?"
"She says that humans have an unlimited capacity to want. Is that true?"

I don't know why I am the deciding vote, but everyone is now listening to me so I give diplomacy my best shot.

"You both have good points. It depends on your definition of wants and needs." Oh, great, I sound like a politician. I tried to explain for example that you might want more clothes than you actually need to survive, and there is certainly something in human nature that will never be satisfied with any amount of money, fame, or power. I don't think my diplomacy helped the argument much, but it certainly gave me food for thought.

There are some people, myself among them, who can't be satisfied knowing only one corner of the world and must travel. There are some, like the clerk in Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Magic Galoshes," who can't be satisfied with the life of a clerk and must experience the lives of a poet and a lark. Among the many reasons that we travel, though, is the oft-forgotten appreciation for the way things are at home. We experience the good and the bad in the foreign culture, just like the clerk saw the pros and cons of being a poet, and that realization allows us to see our normal lives in a new light.

On the fourth of July, after we sang the Star Spangled Banner to an English woman and indulged in apple pie and ice cream, I was chased by a ferocious, barking dog, nearly attacked by a pack of monkeys, harassed by an Indian guy, and terrified by the largest spider I've ever seen as it marched into the bathroom while I was changing.  All of those things made me wish that I was back in Utah, where monkeys and enormous spiders don't threaten me with rabies and poison. That might be my unlimited capacity for want--when I'm in India, I want to be in Utah. When I'm in Utah, I want to go to India.

I do think Tenzin had a good point, though, and I like to think that I could be happy living anywhere. The probable result of the clerk's wanderings as a poet and a lark is that he appreciates his life as a clerk more. Sometimes I picture my future and find equal excitement in the possibility of marrying a farmer and living in Idaho and not getting married and going to school in England. I intend to live fully, and I hope to take advantage of opportunities to travel to Australia, volunteer in a preschool, or open a flower shop, as the case may be. Maybe what I'm trying to say is that I think we can be satisfied with our lives and still want to take advantage of the wonderful options that living provides for us.

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