Sometimes, adults are not so different from children in the regard of needs and wants. Many of us have a ‘list’ – even if it is a subconscious one. It’s our list of logical (and illogical!) wants and perceived needs. It is something that exists in mind in the here and now, as an anticipation of the future. This list brings us face to face with hope. It can also bring us face to face with ourselves. Perhaps this is where I believe that the ‘santa list’ is a great tool for teaching us about a skill that is crucial to self-development, growth, and transformation: self-knowledge.
Let us crystalise just one simple point about self-knowledge in this blog, because it is a huge arena to be discussed, and it touches so many facets of life and change management. If I have produced a list of my desires (my wants) and my perceived needs, I have given that yearning of my own heart a form. I have named my hopes. It’s now something that, even if it doesn’t yet exist, has become real in me. For example, today I might hope for a new pen that actually works. Tomorrow, I can’t say that a pen is insignificant to me, because yesterday, it was a real need or want in me. The association has been made. I have formed an invisible bond with a pen.
There are 3 questions we can ask ourselves about our ‘santa list’ that can teach us a lot about ourselves:
1) What is on our list and why is it there?
2) Going through each item, if there was anything I could replace this item with, what would it be? What would that cost me (not just financially)?
3) Going through each item, what would change in me or in my life if I received this item? What would the benefit of this change be (not just for me but in my wider relationship circles)?
This time before Christmas (called Advent for Christians) is a time of preparation. We can ask for a hundred gifts, but much of the time, we don’t think about the impact such gifts will have on us and our loved ones. We do also sometimes make these lists up out of envy for what others have, and not out of a deeper understand of ‘who I am’ and ‘where I need to go in my life’. If we have done some work on the above questions, what we may discover about ourselves respectively includes:
Discovering what I value in my life
Often there are deep deprivations or ‘lack’ experienced in our lives that we feel the need to either cover, replace or fill over with possessions. We know what it felt like to be without. We might make it a point that that will never be allowed to happen again. This makes us susceptible to two specific dangers:
- If we fill our lack with material goods, our need for fulfilment is only being plastered-over (unless of course we are speaking here of deficiency needs that are necessary for our survival). We also risk judging incorrectly that a specific ‘need’ will only be met by more of a material good that is in fact not the correct solution. For example, loneliness. Loneliness can’t be solved with huge amounts of money. It may help, but money itself is not the solution. What is the genuine reason for my loneliness? Is it an inability to communicate well with others? Is it self-absorption? Is it a fear of intimacy or vulnerability? These are the questions that a life coach has been trained to ask you, by the way, since they’re there to help you with your solutions!
- There is a temptation to fill that emptiness, that lack, with other human beings – in other words, using another person to complete what’s incomplete and to ‘unvoid’ the void that established itself as a hole in our hearts in the first place. Trying to satisfy a need because of a lack of father-figure, for example, with demanding subservience from another (we find this in gang culture and unhealthy domestic relationships) isn’t going to fix the problem of the father figure. As difficult as it will be, we do need to take these painful instances in our past, and resolve to let them shape us into stronger, more loving people. Victimising ourselves and excusing ourselves by blaming others around us for our behaviour and our decisions is ultimately not going to change us. Rather, this will give us leave to continue shirking the share of responsibilities we have in our own decisions well into our adulthood, thus paralysing our emotional and intellectual maturity. * We can learn here, what we value in life from what hasn’t been given us in the past. Do we want this lack to continue controlling us, or can we move on from it? What is it I really need to accept, and overcome?
Discovering how my perceptions are formed
Our past shapes how we approach our needs and wants – and these often spring up from what is subjective than what is objective. Going through our list and thinking about what items could be replaced with something else trains us to think objectively about the need or the want. It also encourages some creative problem-solving! We find great resourcefulness within ourselves, that actually in most cases, these items would no longer seem necessary. Doing this thoughtful piece of work also helps us to see our own giftedness and gifts, the gifts of the people in our lives, the gifts that are everything we already possess. Who knows, perhaps gratitude for the fact that we have enough is the start of a great interior change within us.
Realising what needs to change in us
Looking ahead and perceiving what we hope to get out of acquiring an item on the santa list teaches us about what change really needs to happen in us. When we’ve set our hearts on acquiring a good (that could be material or spiritual!), we know that we will get some sort of benefit from it. Otherwise, why bother? That benefit, is going to change us, because with most benefits in life, there are costs associated with them. In the bigger scheme of things, we have to look at the pros and the cons to establish whether that change going to be ultimately good for us. Is acquiring that item going to increase laziness in me? Is that item going to make me more self-absorbed? Is that item going to consume time that I need to give to others who need my love and support (family, friends, wider community)? Do I want that to happen? Can I resolve to use the item in such a way that certain things about me won’t be compromised? How I can be detached from the item enough that I don’t let it have excessive control over my decisions? This is applicable to our relationship with living beings (like humans and pets) too.
We might like to think that it’d be great if that santa list was satisfied immediately – but more often than not, we are not prepared for the change the fulfilment of that list will evoke. That is partly because we have focused on changing what is outside of ourselves, rather than what is inside of ourselves: our attitudes, beliefs, skills, capacities, desires, perceptions. If we prepared interiorly for Christmas as much as we do exteriorly, we will come closer to accepting and admitting that actually, we have enough on the outside. What I can start to change, is what is on the inside. It’s a journey to seeing that I can have a full life on the inside. There is no such thing as a quick fix for changing what’s in the inside. This is going to take time, and investing in ourselves. But I do believe that our ‘santa lists’ are a great tool to help us begin this journey. Self-knowledge is one of the greatest skills we must learn to master in our lifetime, if we are to fulfil our potentials.
*In adolescent years, support networks such as family and friendships are crucial ‘rocks’ with which we make our decisions. Yet, as adolescents, unless we have a special need, the majority of us have entered the age of reason, and we are, at least in part, culpable for our decisions. Of course there are exceptions to this principle, in such a way that if your free will has been removed from you at the point of decision, then our culpability is reduced. That is not to say, though, that every decision we make following a poor decision ought to be directed by the past event. This principle is far too complex to speak of here and would be another subject of another blog post.