The Four Necessities

We all are in this together

by Robin Hawley Gorsline

[Note: I began writing this well before the outbreak of Covid-19, but in some ways that crisis simply adds to the imperative that we attend to the needs of all humanity. And of course, the crisis highlights the social divisions already present—the lack of one or more of these necessities in various marginalized communities.]

For a year or more, I have included in my morning prayer a desire that everyone in the world has four things every day of their lives: 

  • water
  • food 
  • shelter and safe communities
  • and health care (both physical and mental). 

And in sufficient quantities every day to more than survive, to actually thrive. 

I call them the Four Necessities (following President Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of Four Freedoms for all people). Those freedoms he enunciated are still vital today (and all too lacking in too many places), as are these necessities, which are essential components for every human body on earth to not only survive but also thrive. 

As with Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, each of us, all of us, have the inherent right to all four of the necessities. No one has the right to deny any of them to anyone. 

Indeed, I believe we have a obligation to be proactive, to do all we can to make sure they are available for all bodies, wherever they may live, whatever age, nationality, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexuality, income, religion, political views, education, racial group—every single body without exception. 

For me it is a call, and I believe it is a call laid on all of us. It has changed how I understand what is important, because I know that our world suffers when any one or any group of us cannot be our authentic selves. I agree with Robin Wall Kimmerer who writes, “all thriving is mutual,” meaning that if each of us, all of us, are not thriving then none of us is able to be all we can be. As Dr. King said, “no one is free until we are all free ….”, so too if any of us cannot thrive—due to lack of water, nutrition, safe and secure shelter, and lack of mental and physical health services—then none of us can live into our maximum potential. It can sound like a cliché but it is the truth: we are each and all part of an interdependent web of life. 

Just think of the waste in human capital when individuals and whole populations are without necessary hydration to be able to breathe, healthy food to strengthen their bodies, safe and sanitary and protective living conditions, and health care for their bodies and minds. 

Hands of the poor

Those of us who have these necessary conditions for life in sufficient quantity and quality can feel sorry for them, pray for them, and even donate to some group that tries to help, but in reality we are already paying—not only in funds our government may use to help (always far short of the need), but also in lost human potential and productivity in our world as well as the maintenance of law enforcement and military mechanisms to keep them from agitating against their conditions or even striking back in frustration and anger against the gruesome realities of their lives. 

Should not our first obligation as members of the human race be to do everything we can to make sure that everyone else has enough to thrive? If every body thrives, we all thrive. 

I have a special concern for Gaza, given the alarming deficiencies in their lives, but this is not limited to Gaza. Puerto Rico, part of the United States, is still struggling after Hurricane Maria and the more recent earthquake. And Somalia and so many parts of Africa, Central America, Asia, and of course the 50 states of our own nation. These four necessities are missing in lives everywhere.  Should we not be exercising empathy for the entire human race, not just our own group? 

So what to do? 

There is no one or easy solution. What is needed is a fundamental attitudinal change, radically changing the definition of success and good living, currently built on getting what only we need and want, to seeing success as being when everyone has what we need and want. As Ibram X. Kendi has said, “we need policies that are need-based.” 

I am safe in my privilege, but I do not feel successful when I know how many people are not, indeed how many are barely surviving and how many needlessly die, or whose lives become living hells, due to the lack of one or more of these necessities. 

One more thought: as I continue to learn from indigenous people and scientists about the workings of the non-human parts of the world I am struck by how often they speak of creatures (I admit my special interest is in trees) galvanizing to help others in trouble, both those in their own “tribes” and others around them. So why can’t we do that, too?

And I continue to learn how seeing that natural world as “other,” as object to be used for our own well-being, rather than as neighbor and ally and teacher and fellow citizens of the planet can make a huge difference. That is a key to creating a different world. I have much to learn about this, but already I am growing more conscious of how my own socialization and practices make things more difficult for so many, not only other humans but nature as well (think Climate Crisis/Emergency).

In posts in the future, I will look at each of these necessities in turn, highlighting the essential nature of each and how many of us—yes, us—do not have access to them. 

And I will return to how we might begin to shift our priorities. In the meantime, I invite you to read print and online articles (and share in your networks and share here) that highlight the enormous necessity gaps in our world. Don’t turn away from the troubling stories about starvation and thirst, substandard and even non-existent housing, and the lack of care for people who are sick and dying. Take them in, and think, what can I do? Feel the pain and loss that so many experience. How can I help create change, deep, systemic change so that all may thrive? 

And let us not avoid opportunities where we can provide practical help, contributing to organizations that are already at work as well as insisting our leaders shift our priorities, leading us to a new world. We can lead, too.  

Stay tuned. 

6 thoughts on “The Four Necessities”

    1. This argument seems like an invitation to despair because in the imensity of international need, how can we ever meet all needs? But the principal is excellent so this requires additional thinking. The “human capital” mentioned seems the bright point of the article because that seems unlimited and the ultimate solution to this very large problem, so the thinking needs to identify incremental steps, like can we agree what is enough of items of limited quantity? How can needed resources be moved across the world, matching needs with extra from other parts with minimal inefficiency? Is tribalism bad if it helps us take first steps to help those like or near ourselves? Can we plot a course to move ourselves or the world closer to this noble goal? I think we can. Possible effective action is motivational Where as principles like these keep us moving in a consistent direction.

  1. The four necessitites reminds me of the Four Agreements, a book about indigenous culture and our interconnectedness of the universe. I think that your plan is excellent to share information and ways to help others achieve the necessities of life. I am surprised that Roosevelt did not mention work. For some work represents dignity and a means to achieve the four necessities. For others it is drudgery because it does not pay enough to reach the necessities needed to sustain life. I am an advocate for working people, no matter the field, receiving a living wage. Jeff Besos needs to share through a living wage, with workers for their contributions to his wealth, not fire them for speaking out against poor working conditions.

    Thank you for reminding us that we are all interconnected and interdependent on the land, wind, fire, and water, and that these elements help to provide the four necessities of life without which we cannot survive.

  2. Wonderful redefinition of success from individual consumerism to ensuring that EVERY need is supplied, globally, in body and mind. No one thrives unless ALL thrive.

  3. I agree: the gaps seem insurmountable. It seems we grow up believing that the necessities are not met “over there”, with “them”. COVID has certainly shone a spotlight on the depth of needs right here, with us, in the U.S., in our states, counties, communities, maybe our next door neighbor. In addition to supporting various organizations in our area, the tragedy in Beirut this week has turned my attention to Lebanon which was suffering already. One organization that I have been supporting for the past two years is Anera ( They help refugees and vulnerable communities in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan live with dignity, well-being and hope. Please consider their appeals.

    Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by hopelessness so I try to focus on one of the necessities and make a donation, write a poem, talk to a friend or a stranger, listen. It helps. A little.

  4. Thank you, Rev. Robin, for your reflections which are speaking from the heart and directly to the basic needs that we all share. As I read and thought about the needs, one aspect stuck out: community. You mentioned “safe communities” alongside shelter. If COVID has exposed one thing for me (besides many others that you also addressed and the unequal effects of the pandemic due to our existing inequalities) then it is the “epidemic of loneliness”. It certainly existed before but it became much more urgent for me. We are inherently social beings, and I would add this sense of belonging and interaction with others to the list of central needs that many societies around the world struggle to provide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *