On the need to be wanted and why exams matter


It is a little while since last I blogged and I have left undone matters that I referenced previously. I will revert to that soon. Despite my absence, there has been much always on my mind that finds its outlet here, in this blog.  

I have set myself a challenge in stating as my title – On the need to be wanted and why exams matter. There have been a myriad thoughts whirling around my head these past days that I shall strive to settle to some order, so there may be a coherence where now, there is only a hazy glimpse of what might be.

The need to be wanted. What does that mean to us as individuals? How are we wanted, why are we wanted? How do we measure how much we are wanted?

I needed to arrange a tennis match recently, two singles matches to be precise, so the co-ordination of agreeing dates and times should not have been complex. The first call was a delight – a straightforward, agreeable exchange of pleasantries and mutual decisions regarding times and dates to play. I came off the telephone feeling cheered, full of bonhomie towards all mankind.

The second call was rather less straightforward. I was greeted with some disbelief that the match had to be played by a certain date, which was ‘impossible’. My offer of several specific dates and times was greeted equally with some disdain and the remark that I was so ‘flexible’ whilst they had a ‘thirteen hour nightmare of a day’ ahead and so much to do. By rights and fair play, they should have conceded the match, but no, this person felt that she should request an extension to the deadline because her working and social life was ‘manic’.

What relevance to our conversation did her thirteen hour day have? What contribution did the repeated comments to her manic lifestyle and the very many demands for her time and attention make to our shared purpose of arranging a tennis match? Very little in actuality, but these comments, at a subconscious level, served a deeper, much more significant purpose that extended far beyond the boundaries of tennis matches and what times we might play.

This need to show how much in demand this person was, and by contrast, how little my time was called for, is a part and parcel of the daily status battles that rage on in all work places, in all social contexts, between young and old alike.  It is part of that strange and relentless social ritual that accompanies the giving and receiving of invitations of all kinds, from business to pleasure. The problem with such battles, is that in order to come out on top, someone’s needs, wishes, wants, must always be subjugated to the other.

 I won my tennis match against my first and highly agreeable companion, and lost to the second. Thus, the status quo has been happily maintained, alas to my cost. I would that it had been the other way round but such is the way of things. 

I have pondered long about our intrinsic need to be wanted, that incessant, remorseless desire for approval, affection, love. 

The need to be wanted, that desire to be courted, our time called upon, our company sought, our services rendered, is a constant companion through our adult lives, and, increasingly, is present in the lives of many children and young people too. Why else the demand for social networks that run to the hundreds and thousands of contacts and connections of the most popular members of our society? But I am not so much interested in that vast virtual world of companionship so much as I’m interested in what happens to us day by day, face to face, as we go about our lives.

By way of contrast to my high status tennis companion, I drove by, just a few days ago, the young homeless man I have become acquainted with over this past two years. I fear I have made little significant difference to his life-style. His life may be made temporarily more comfortable by having a few more breakfasts than he might otherwise have had (courtesy of the kindly café owners who accept my donations as ‘credit’ in store for his next visit), or by possessing a few more books and clothes than before we met, but I have not succeeded in changing his attitude towards rejoining society. He remains very much on the outside of most of what we give little thought to having as our possessions – friends, family, security, shelter, food warmth. Maslow’s physiological needs remain a daily challenge.

What struck me, as I saw this young man in the distance, was how much his gaze is constantly fixed to the ground as he migrates from one resting place to another, the space between his resting places varying little more than a few hundred metres, in the severe weather, ranging a little farther as the sun warms the earth. So low has his status fallen in equal measure to the absence most anywhere, of the need for his presence. His physical self occupies a place on this earth that matters little more than the presence of our vegetation, our natural and physical environment.

Far from having a manic social and working life, far from enduring thirteen hour working days and having no time at all to breathe, this young homeless man has no calls upon his time other than those that ensure his survival. His contact with society remains at its most base level, in begging for money for food. Even that habitual routine now remains a passive act: his presence alongside a carefully placed cap, rather than the soulful, pitiful engagement and pleadings that accompanied a request for money from an aged war veteran I encountered in London recently.

What do my frantically busy and in-demand tennis companion and this young homeless man have in common? Both have responded to that call of nature, the relentless driving force that binds us to one another, or sees us cast out in the cold – that need to be wanted. We see that need sated in one and pitifully absent in another, or so frequently frustrated, that the need to be wanted has been submerged somewhere deep within and lost along the way. 

What battle is raging on here, if it is not that age-old war between Eros and Thanatos?

In reading around my theme I came across this brief description of Eros and Thanatos, which seems apt in its brevity and focus:

“With the start of life the death instinct, Thanatos, was born, which aimed at the destruction of life and the re-establishment of inanimate nature. The life force, Eros, and the death force, Thanatos, are inseperable. Eros seeks to bring organic material together into larger units whereas the death instinct seeks to disperse organic materials and return life to its original inorganic state.” (psychoanalyse.narod.ru/lexicon).

We all have a need to be wanted, to feel that our presence matters, that our company is sought if not delighted upon, that our services are useful, significant. We may not always appreciate, or wish for our time to be so much in demand, but would we really have it any other way?

On why exams matter.

What measure do we have of the degree of our need, of the extent of our being in demand, our ‘wantedness’, in society? During our school years, our formative years, we may hope to experience that sense of being needed, being wanted, loved, cherished and protected, by our parents, our immediate family, our guardians.

If we are fortunate, the security and love of good parents remains with us through life. It is our shelter from the proverbial storm. It is our anchor in the turbulent sea of life.

Examinations are one way of measuring our worth to society, of ensuring that our dreams and aspirations for the future are kept in some meaningful measure, are held up to the scrutiny of the light of day. What is produced in the exam room, in our formal examinations, is marked and measured not just by those who know us well and love us best, but by those who may be indifferent to our private wishes, hopes and dreams.

The outcomes of all public examinations offer us a passageway to the future. Whether that future is the stuff of our dreams or of our nightmares, rests firmly in the hands of those for whom fortune has already bestowed good favour.  

We may drift through our days blissfully unaware of the countless times we adopt behaviours that subconsciously tell the world at large how significant our presence really is. By entering public examinations, and making choices in subject matter, a statement is being made about how we present to the world, how we wish to be seen and recognized by others. 

At every stage of the way, choices are being made that assert our own sense of self-concept, that affirm what we really think about ourselves. The student who prophesies doom and disaster in forthcoming exams, and regales everyone with tales of their misfortunes daily, already has set the scene for an end outcome that fulfils that prophesy; already has tied their mast to the sails of their own discontent.

The student who quietly and with humility gets on and studies, may have no great audience for their trials and tribulations, but may have a more secure sense of self. The outcomes of their examinations may be more successful and lead to a widening, rather than a closing up, of opportunities. In such ways, the extent of our being wanted, by universities, colleges, employers, is measured and made public. 

It is an incontrovertible truth that we all have a need to be wanted. Exams matter, not always in ways that may be anticipated, but because their outcomes determine the extent to which each student will be in demand for their immediate future. In making that transition towards independence and adulthood, the results of examinations ensure that for some, there will be a continuation of adults who step into the shoes of our earlier protectors, our parents or guardians, and say yes, they want us too.

The more in demand we are, the more we are wanted, the more powerfully we can truly be conscious of our presence on this earth. One of the things we may strive to achieve is a capacity to allow ourselves to be great, to be significant, without undermining those around us to achieve our own greatness.

And so, to close this rambling blog which has taken me on a journey around the houses and back again, I am reminded of a favourite quotation, which is oft attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I believe has its rightful origins in the work of Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you….. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


About HMStack

Independent Education Consultant (SEND) delivering local, regional and national services to providers within the public, private and third sector. Passionate about creating the context for positive change working with and on behalf of children, young people and their families, the conference and public policy sector and training organisations. An eclectic mix of clients includes schools and other educational settings, museums and heritage, service children and British Armed Forces support organisations and providers across the public, private and third sector. Educational writer, blogger and philosopher and aspiring screenwriter, inspired by drama and literary adaptations.

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