“I need to stay in touch with my friends,” my student said tearfully. Maggie [name changed] was a senior in the parochial high school where I taught, a good student, and one of our top STARs—Student Technology Advisers—who assisted at the Help Desk and during training. But now she was in trouble for using her gifts to create a work-around to access Facebook on the school network, a serious breach of school policy.
The assistant principal had asked me—the curriculum technologist and moderator for the STARs—to handle the situation in the privacy of her office. Maggie didn’t dispute the evidence of her infraction, only the consequence. Her account would be suspended for a week.
“My friends on Facebook are the only thing keeping me going,” Maggie wailed. “They’re the people I met at High Status University this summer. My brother goes there, and my parents expect me to go there, too.” I wondered if their expectations were hers, too, or maybe only hers, to measure up to her brother.
Maggie pulled a tissue from the box the assistant principal kept in her office and wiped her eyes. “I have to get away from home. My parents are fighting all the time. I need to get accepted to High Status University.” I recognized the my-life-is-over-if-I-don’t-get-what-I-want desperation in her voice.
“I’m so sorry, Maggie. This is a tough time for you and your family. Thank you for telling me.” I put my hand on my heart. “I want you to know that you are greatly loved—and respected. That is why the week-long suspension of your network access will stand, along with a month probationary period as a STAR.” I prayed she would not break the rule again, and that I would not have to ask for her STAR pin, which she wore on her uniform collar every day.
But Maggie protested. “I thought the rule wouldn’t apply to me. I’m a STAR and should get special privileges because of my service to the school.”
This week, while sorting through my jewelry box, I came upon my own STARs pin. Among the many fond memories of the students I was honored to work with, I remembered Maggie and what Charles Osgood said: “There are no exceptions to the rule that everybody likes to be an exception to the rule.” This is especially true when we elevate our wants to needs. I catch myself doing that—all the time.
Most of us were taught the difference between wants and needs as children, at least as far as money is concerned. In their program for first graders, Abilene Teachers Federal Credit Union defines a need as something necessary to live and function—food, water, a job, housing—and a want as something that can improve your quality of life, such as toys or ice cream. But as we get older, needs and wants can get blurred. I need a car to get to my job and the grocery store, but do I need a high-status vehicle?
Maslow’s hierarchy presents a systematic way to understand needs. At the bottom of the pyramid are basic needs: physiological—food, water, warmth, rest—and safety. Above are psychological needs: belonging and love—intimate relationships and friends—along with esteem, that is, prestige and a feeling of accomplishment. On top of the pyramid are self-fulfillment needs or self-actualization, achieving one’s full potential, including creativity.
Though Maggie’s basic needs were being met, she was relying on Facebook friends for belonging and acceptance to High Status University for esteem, rather than her close relationships and considerable accomplishments. She broke school policy because she confused her wants with needs. And in so doing, she was jeopardizing her opportunity for self-actualization.
I knew Maggie’s confusion prevented her from understanding the repercussions of her behavior, so I tried another tact. “You are a leader, Maggie, and because of that, your behavior is held to a higher standard. We trust you to set an example.” She cocked her head. “You made a mistake—we all do. Now, we’re offering you a chance to model how to own up to the consequences.” I noted the expression of pain on her face but continued. “As for your home situation and future, please come talk to me any time, your guidance counselor, teachers, or someone else you trust. This is a big transition. One thing I can guarantee: God has a plan for you, even if you don’t get accepted to your Plan A school.”
As it turned out, Maggie did not get into High Status University, but Excellent University welcomed her. After her freshman year, she came to visit her former teachers and told us that High Status University’s rejection had been for the best. She had found good friends at Excellent University, challenge in the academic programs, and a good-fit place separate from her brother. God had placed her where she could meet the full range of her needs.
Remembering Maggie’s smile, I thought: God loves us without exception. Agape. That’s all we really need.
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