What People Want

I remember watching the movie “What Women Want” ages ago (starring Mel Gibson) and i thought it was pretty funny, though stereotypical.  However, it suddenly struck me again recently that the concept really isn’t too far from the truth.

Ever thought about what the world wants? I’ve looked around at the people surrounding me and thought that to myself many times.  What are they looking out for?  What do they want to achieve?  What do they seem to want to achieve, by their actions, even though they don’t openly admit it?  Granted that my world really is quite small (to paraphrase J.S. Mill, my world is simply the society and the people around me), but as small as Singapore is, i suppose this is already an appropriate sample size.

I guess if you were to ask them specifically what they want, they might have an answer to it…at first.  Of course we all do; we want the Cash, Condo, Country Club, Car, Credit Card, etc.  Or maybe other people prefer more simple lives with less ambitions.  Maybe such people like myself have to live with smaller ambitions because we know that we can’t fulfill them.  Or that we just like having life kept simple.  Or for many other reasons, all of which could or could not be valid – we’ll never know.

But when we ask further, i think the wisdom in simplicity is actually quite profound.  For example, using the ambitions above (though not all people have them, and those who have them are not necessarily like that), maybe if you were to ask someone who desires the 5C’s, why he wants them, he might answer “So that i can live a comfortable life without worry.”  Logical? Perhaps.  True?  I’m not too sure.  With that much finances at your disposal, one would normally want more.  With that much to lose, one would be more afraid.  I’d venture a guess and probably infer that they don’t really know what they want – they’re just following the majority.  Something like “if everyone wants it, then it can’t be wrong”, which is ironic, really.  So (possibly) because they can’t decide for themselves, they choose what is the generally accepted-as-desirable-and-respectable ends.

I read in some book in my teens about a story of a farmer and a rich man, and (you guessed it) how the farmer was so much happier than the rich man for no other reason than he had what he wanted.  There was also a comic strip on Calvin and Hobbes (All hail Bill Watterson!) where Calvin asks Hobbes “If you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?”, and Hobbes replies “A sandwich”.

Obviously Calvin is outraged. He is an ambitious little boy, though he’s only six years old.  “A sandwich?! Why would you wish for a sandwich? You could have anything in the world – power! Fame! Money! RIches! Woman! Why would you wish for a #*$&#%#$ SANDWICH!?”  And the last panel shows Hobbes munching on two slices of bread with peanut butter smeared inbetween them, calmly commenting “I got my wish”.

But life isn’t that simple right?  We’re not stuffed tigers living with 6-year-olds who haven’t aged at all over 10 years and suddenly disappear from the (comic book) world – Mr. Watterson, just so you know, we still miss C&H very very much.  We grow old, and we end up with responsibilities of families, jobs, parents, and so on.  Having wishes and ambitions could them be seen as important as we need to have a goal to work to, not just a “sandwich”.

However, i have digressed from my original intention here – what it seems that the world wants isn’t really very much.  I think it’s quite evident how much society values thinking independently, when people want decisions to be made for them.  Of course decisions like “where to eat meals” are ok, but the decisions in question are usually those rather important ones – such as career paths, expenditure, housing.  It’s even reflected some NUS students when they complain “why can’t i have all my modules allocated to me so that i don’t have to decide on what to take each semester?”  I for one was very appreciative of the few modules i had the choice to take, because i took what i knew i’d find interesting and enjoyed it immensely.  But what frightens me is that the impression of having the choices made for you is deemed as highly desirable. Scholars get their career paths chosen for them, and things like that.  Nothing wrong with scholars, but i’m not too sure of the implications of this – doesn’t this mean that the people who will be effectively running the country in future (since we are a meritocratic society) have hardly made important decisions regarding life choices on their own?  Isn’t that a dangerous thing to do – to place someone who cannot manage his own future in authority to manage a country’s?

It seems that the majority of people want things decided for them.  Simply because they really don’t know what they want.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking what really matters to us and what we want, and more importantly, why we’re doing it.

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