But I WANT It!
I just watched an old TV episode that just highlights the terrible failure of our culture to comprehend the nature of desire. In it, one of the characters desperately wants a relationship with this other woman but is forbidden due to various cultural taboos. A friend, counseling against pursuing the woman, sums up the philosophy of the episode when he says, “But if this is what you really want, then I’ll support you in it.” In other words, what you want right now is the principal deciding factor in making good decisions.
Now, before I begin slashing things to bits, let me note that desire is fundamentally a good thing. I’ve noted this before. It’s intrinsic to human nature and therefore how we’re designed. We need it, and to follow desire is, in principle, a positive thing.
However, what we fail to comprehend so often is that our desires are often twisted by numerous factors. I may want ice cream. I may really want ice cream. But why do I want ice cream? Yes, it tastes good, but is there more than that? Is it comfort food, and I’m feeling anxious, perhaps without even realizing it? Is it an attempt to fill myself up when I feel empty? Is it a way of passive-aggressively spurning my parents who forbid me to have ice cream? (Yes, that’s a fairly absurd scenario, but I’m just throwing out possibilities.) We may want things for reasons that we’re not immediately aware of, and those motivations can drag our desires into places that they were never meant to go.
Just because you want something doesn’t mean that it’s going to satisfy you. Just because you want something doesn’t mean that it will provide pleasure or engender happiness or foster contentment. And just because you want something doesn’t mean that it’s beneficial, healthy, or wise. Getting what you want can sometimes do more harm than good, even if we don’t understand why. What we truly want may not actually be what we think we want, and if we frantically rush headlong into what we passionately desire, we may find ourselves running away from what we really do desire.
There are deep desires in us, and we should spend our lives discovering and seeking to satisfy those desires. There are also other desires, often easier to recognize, that are false desires, wants that should be eschewed rather than embraced. Such desires may be fabulous sign posts, pointing to what is going on in our souls, but they aren’t things that should be chased after.
Desire is a critical issue in our lives. It is therefore a critical issue in making decisions, but it is not the only factor, and it is not a trump card. Just because we want something doesn’t make it good or right. There is more going on, more at stake, than merely what we feel like we want.