“Wantology” for Free
Written by: John O'Keefe
A few days ago (May 6, 2012) the New York Times published an article called “The Outsourced Life.” One of the people mentioned in the article is Katherine Ziegler, who describes herself as a “wantologist.” She helps people figure out what they want. For example, by running through a series of questions, Ziegler helped one client figure out that although she thought she wanted a “bigger house,” what she really wanted was more peace in her life. Ziegler counseled that the woman create a room in her current house dedicated to feeling peaceful.
Through the rest of the article author Arlie Hochschild describes what he sees as the general commodification of “even our most ordinary desires.” “We’ve put a self-perpetuating cycle in motion,” Hochschild writes. “The more anxious, isolated and time-deprived we are, the more likely we are to turn to paid personal services.” Now we need professionals to help us find relationships, plan weddings, pick baby names, and rearrange our closets. If you can think of it, there is a service for that. Now, apparently, we can get people to help us figure out what we want, “wantologists.”
My initial reaction to Hochschild’s article was to roll my eyes in the face of one more example of the modern world gone mad. However, as I read through the piece, I was struck by the parallels between the basic coaching of Ziegler the professional “wantologist” and rudimentary Ignatian discernment. Ziegler correctly helped the woman in the story understand that her craving for a bigger house was really a craving for deeper inner peace. I was also struck by the profound religious poverty of a culture that leaves many so lost that they have to hire professionals for help with entry-level discernment problems. So, by the end of the article I was feeling more compassion for the people who feel that they can’t find a mate without a dating service, who can’t name their children without a naming service, who can’t arrange their closets without a closet service, or who don’t know what they want without a want-identification-service.
We practitioners of Ignatian Spirituality have our work cut out for us. We know how difficult it can be to discern well. We human’s distort our real desires all the time, thereby shutting ourselves off from God’s desire for us. We are good at misreading our wants, and even those who are well-practiced in the art of discernment often misunderstand their own desires, confusing the yearning for a “bigger house,” and the invitation to a “peaceful room.” Discernment is a tricky business. For us, the emergence of professional “wantologists” should remind us to stay focused on the spiritual journey. We need to not forget to go on retreat because we are too busy. We need to not skip the examen because we are too tired. We need to remember that the spiritual life is, in many ways, a practice.
I also think we need to do a better job letting people know about this great tradition. Making the Spiritual Exercises and practicing the Examen will produce better and much more profound results than a one time visit with a “wantologist.” It is also a lot cheaper. Maybe I should put up a sign on my door: “Free Wantology. Inquire Within.”
Photo: “1/365 [dazed & confuesed]” by PhotoJonny from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)