On Being Needed

After reading my post last week on loving kindness, a friend sent me a New York Times article by the Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks: "Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded":

"In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful.
This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed. "

What I get from this is two things: first, we need to have a purpose to ease our anxiety and feel that life has meaning. Second, we must be a part of a community. You can't be needed unless there's someone else there to need you.

Over the past five weeks, I've thought a lot about being needed. I don't work in an emergency room. I'm not an elementary or high school teacher. I'm not qualified to save small children from fires or even a wading pool. So then, what purpose does my work serve in society? How can my labour serve other people? Am I needed?

"Being 'needed' does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women. As the 13th-century Buddhist sages taught, 'If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way."

At my day job as an editor, I like to think I'm serving people by making text accessible to a wide audience. Every time I check a fact or untangle a difficult sentence I feel useful. Sometimes I imagine that I'm opening a door for a child to walk through to discover they love art.

As a writer, the thing I most want to do is write books that light fires for others, so that I can experience a hot blaze in my life. I'd like all the things that brightening through service entails: happiness and the ability to see beyond myself.

The next time you're facing writer's block or the fear of doing something important, perhaps ask yourself how taking action can light a fire for someone else. You're on the verge of writing the book that someone else needs to read so they can laugh or cry. This purpose might lessen the anxiety, bring you joy, or give you the resolve to keep going. If we think this way, about the light we bring to others by being present, then we're not alone at a computer, staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Perhaps this is how we can get out of our own way, be well, and author the story that world needs.