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Desires, values, attachments, wishes, wants, hopes, fantasies and spatulas - Convenient Self-Indulgence [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Desires, values, attachments, wishes, wants, hopes, fantasies and spatulas [Feb. 27th, 2006|06:46 am]
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[mood |contemplativecontemplative]

I intend to clarify some of my vocabulary relating to desire.

The biggest distinction to make is that between "value" and "want". To value something is to appreciate its good qualities as they relate to you. To want something is to feel its lack. (For example, an addict might want crack, but not value it (and may even loathe it).) A key to enjoying life is to properly value things without wanting them. (For example, I value money and romance, but do not suffer when they lack.) No, I don't know how to teach this. I think it comes in part from learning to be happy with what you have.

"Wish" is tricky. It's like "want," without the negative connotation. It involves not only valuing something that one does not have, but actively recognizing how one's life would be improved if the wish were granted. This can be healthy as long as either the wish is very likely to be fulfilled, or one does not rely (emotionally) upon the fulfillment of the wish. Failing these, the "wish" can become a "want".

"Fantasy" is used for the unlikeliest of wishes. It is very easy to keep fantasies healthy, because there is little temptation to depend upon their fulfillment. They allow a person to enjoy experiences that the real world fails to offer. They can even help a person remain sane in the absence of things that the person would otherwise want too dearly.

The idea that unlikelihood helps a person to avoid "wanting" depends upon the maintenance of a realistic perspective, and upon a fundamental acceptance of the improbability of the wish (rather than a merely superficial "knowledge" of the improbability). (For example, most romantic heartaches are eased once the person accepts that they will never get what they want (even though they knew it all along).)

Emotional reliance on what is very probable (e.g., upon what one already has, or upon what one knows will happen) is a different ball game. I will call that "attachment". (For example, although I rarely rely on my friends for anything specific, I do rely on the idea that they will be there for me if/when I need them, and I count on them to treat me well. This leaves me vulnerable to getting badly hurt if they fail these expectations. (This happened last month, when, for the first time in over five years, a dear friend treated me very poorly.) But the pleasure, joy, happiness and emotional health which I derive from my attachment to my friends far outweighs the rare risk of pain.) Attachment can be healthy as long as one is a very good judge of the probability and magnitude of the risks and rewards.

For practical purposes, I use "desire" and "want" interchangeably. But I actually consider "desire" a superset that includes "want" and "attachment". I never call attachment "desire," for the same reason that I never call a rubber scraper a "spatula": The former term communicates a far more specific idea, which even diverges a bit from the practical connotations which I associate with the latter. (For example, I consider desire to be undesirable (so to speak), and a spatula to be suitable to flip hamburgers, but these are not true of, respectively, attachment and a rubber scraper.)

Upon losing something to which one is attached, the attachment takes on the negative qualities of desire, effectively becoming a "want". This is the primary weakness in my armor, which I cover not with emotional walls, but only with careful and experienced evaluation of risks. Emotional walls make one less open to risks, but also less open to the joy that life has to offer. (My way is certainly not right for everyone. Some people cannot afford to risk being fully open, even to their loved ones. Either they cannot with confidence assess their chance of getting hurt, or they can allow themselves no risk because they lack the emotional strength to withstand the pain.)

That leaves the question: What is hope? The more I think about it, the more broad the term "hope" seems. It can involve expectations which, when defied, are crushing. So it shares much in common with "want". But it is something greater, for to live without hope is barely to live at all. It shares a purpose with "fantasy," in keeping someone sane, but "hope" is expected to be realistic. Perhaps it applies to those desires whose probability and results are based on faith because they defy easy analysis, and which are worth taking on faith, because even to believe in them brings comfort and happiness.

(Huh. That's far better than I expected to do, on the fly, for "hope".)

Any questions?