In Economics, we often talk of goods and services as being “needs” or “wants.” Needs are things like food and housing, which one cannot do without, while wants are things that are optional, but desired. Teaching my teenage daughter the difference between these two types of goods is a constant challenge, especially for a child growing up in a neighborhood where poverty is not always obvious (but almost certainly still there, under the surface.) I thought of this distinction when I recalled the fact that I spent most of my years in graduate school without a television set, a “want” in a time when just satisfying needs was a challenge. This is something that amuses me when I realize that I have spent more time watching T.V. in the middle weeks of summer this year than I spent watching in all of those years.
Like many in this country, I saw (thanks to a DVR system) large segments of first the Republican (yah Cleveland!) and then the Democratic National Conventions, and now plan on watching parts of the Summer Olympics. As someone who generally prefers to either read or to experience things myself, I am amused that I am spending so much time watching other people get together and do things.
Although I am not the biggest sports fan in my home, I do like to watch athletes compete at such an extreme level and see them do things that no one else has done before, some seeming to defy gravity or the usual limits of how the human body is put together. Already, I have become aware of the soccer team’s journey to what may be victory. My daughter, who also plays soccer, will be watching with me.
I always find the Olympics to be inspiring, as they offer a way for people from around the world to gather to do something that celebrates what is best in our humanity. Past Olympic gatherings provide a framework for many memories from my childhood. In addition, the most recent past Summer Olympics were held in the final months of my sister’s life, and so form a backdrop to memories of days of her physical decline. And I recall watching Olga Korbut and Nadia Comanche as well as Mark Spitz win gold medals when I was quite young, although I never thought, as many young people think, that “someday I could do that,” thoughts that I would not be surprised to hear coming from my athletic daughter in the coming days. And, somewhere in my parents’ home, there is a cute koala bear intended to celebrate the participation of the U.S. in the 1980 Olympics that the United States boycotted. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the United States took our stuffed animals and our teams and stayed home. I remember that when I first got the koala bear, I was so taken by its cuteness that I could not stop looking at it. Alas, I was not enthralled with it enough to keep me from losing it.
The team from the United States includes people from all over the U.S., including thirteen from the state of Ohio. The local basketball hero, Kyrie Irving, will be on the basketball team, which may encourage local sports fans to watch the games. I have memories of watching a classmate of mine (in, granted, a class of over one thousand students, and with whom I never actually shared a classroom) play on the gold medal Olympic Basketball team of 1984. This year, I will again be watching as Irving takes his skills to Rio. I wish him and all of “Team U.S.A.” the best in the coming competitions; we will all be cheering for you!
I know that the athletes who compete in the Olympics have spent a large portion of their lives making choices that will help them succeed in the Olympics unfolding there now, sacrificing “wants” for “needs.” Which brings me back to the question I began with. How do you teach your children the difference between something they “need” and something they only “want?”
Wishing all of those participating in the 2016 Olympics the best; we will all be watching in awe.
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