When Alma organized the church at the waters of Mormon, he instructed members to “impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had.” They were to give “both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants” (Mosiah 18:27-29).
But the word can also mean something we desire, something we would like to have but could live without. When a scripture mentions both needs and wants, it gives the impression of providing more than the minimum, of paying attention to the preferences and interests of the people you serve, and of trying to accommodate their wishes.
In May, 1831, as members of the church began immigrating from New York to Ohio, the Lord instructed Bishop Edward Partridge to ensure that everyone who arrived was given appropriate property, “every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” (Doctrine and Covenants 51:3).
The following year, the Lord provided similar instructions to church members in Missouri about how to care for the poor and the needy among them. “Ye are to be equal,” He said, “or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties [of the church] for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs.” Then, the Lord added this qualifying phrase: “inasmuch as his wants are just” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:17).
How do you know if your wants are just?
At work, I’ve participated many times in prioritization exercises, where we’ve asked people to label each of their requests as (1) essential, (2) important, or (3) nice-to-have. Trust me, nothing is ever labeled as “nice-to-have,” and it’s not unusual for everything to initially be labeled as essential. Why? Because without some clarity about constraints, no one has any incentive to drop anything from the list. When you realize that only half the items on the list can get done, that’s when the hard decisions can begin.
Here are a few questions to ask as we consider our own needs and wants:
- What are your constraints? You can’t have everything, so what do you value most?
- How familiar are you with the needs and wants of the people around you? Are you factoring their preferences into your decisions?
- What is the marginal utility to you of each additional acquisition? Is it worth more to you than it would be to someone else?
Today, I will make wise decisions about my needs and my wants. I will strive to ensure that my expectations are reasonable and fair. I will also strive to understand the preferences and desires of the people I serve, so that I can help them in ways which are most meaningful for them personally.