Being in need is a normal human condition. It indicates that humans depend upon other humans. The fact that we need the affection and care of one another not only becomes evident at the beginning and end of our lives and in times of illness and crisis but also on a day-to-day basis.
„We all live subsidized lives,” as American jurist and professor of law Martha A. Fineman puts it: no one can lead a good life strictly by and for themself.
Despite the self-evidence of this idea, the image of needy people and even more the fact of being needy itself, evokes mainly negative associations. Those who demonstrate neediness equally exhibit their dependency. Those who are needy and hence dependent, are considered as unable to make „right” and „reasonable” decisions.
Among others, such arguments are used to discredit public social benefits. The fact that life decisions are always made in the context of dependency is thereby as much ignored as the non-existence of a fully independent individual. We simply cannot live independently, neither in human relationships or in the relationship of the individual with the state nor in our dependence on nature.
If we succeed in overcoming the deeply embedded dualism of dependency and freedom, comprehension of our neediness which is always related to our vulnerability may no longer be experienced as a threat. On the contrary, much of life would be easier if we assume that no single person could live well without the support of someone else. In consequence we also don’t have to feel ashamed of needing each others help.
The primacy of the concept of total individual responsibility which is part of the declining order of patriarchy, leads in its distorted form to feelings of omnipotence, powerlessness, and a growing number of mental health problems, such as narcissism and depression. It, however, loses ground to a culture of care where we take responsibility for ourselves and each other as both caregivers and recipients.
Acknowledging human neediness also leads to another kind of politics, which are then understood as a way of shaping our living together in difference. It enables us to experiment with new concepts of cooperation within initiatives, NGOs, communities, city councils, governments, supranational institutions, and all other forms of political organisation.
Being together in healthy love relationships and friendships, which allows us to experience care for each other without restricting but rather enlarging each other’s spaces, is even made easier by acknowledging ourselves and encountering each other as needy. We are further unburdened if we succeed in openly communicating our wishes and needs as well as the possibilities and limits to mutually fulfill them.
Nonetheless handling one’s own neediness will remain challenging. It raises questions of who we are and can be, how much intimacy and how much openness we need, where and according to which criteria a line between private and public needs to be negotiated and drawn, and how we can live a good life with each other while taking into account our mutual dependency.