Day 247 - Hierarchy of Needs - Part One.
Oh, I think Maslow had it so right...
I have a degree in psych...probably should have stayed and gotten my Ph.D. But at the time I was preoccupied with getting it done faster rather than what fit me better...so off to law school I went.
My recommendation from the head of the psychology department to law school said this:
I have told Erin that she should get her Ph.D. in psychology. I have even offered her a teaching assistant position. She is stubborn. She refused. So I will recommend her for law school...
Good old Wallace...perhaps I should have listened.
Anyway, I didn’t and I have had a good life and the law has been good to me. And, in fact, I think it is my base in psychology that has made successful in the law. Family law selected me and as anyone can guess, there is a lot of cross over.
So what the hell does any of this have to do with Maslow?
I go to Wikipedia first, since they will more succinctly explain Maslow...
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in Psychological Review. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans' innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. He then created a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society as its base and then proceeding to more acquired emotions.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is used to study how humans intrinsically partake in behavioral motivation. Maslow used the terms "physiological", "safety", "belonging and love", "social needs" or "esteem", and "self-actualization" to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move. This means that in order for motivation to arise at the next stage, each stage must be satisfied within the individual themselves. Additionally, this theory is a main base in knowing how effort and motivation are correlated when discussing human behavior. Each of these individual levels contains a certain amount of internal sensation that must be met in order for an individual to complete their hierarchy. The goal in Maslow's theory is to attain the fifth level or stage: self-actualization.
What I remember about Maslow’s theory is that when people become frustrated at the level they are on, they grasp to other levels. But they aim towards the middle, not the top. Somehow from the bottom of the pyramid to the top is too overwhelming...so they just aim a little higher instead of shooting for the moon.
I haven’t read Maslow in years so I will stop right here in saying anything about what he said about his theory. Instead I am going to take this most basic precept and do a little theorizing of my own...
What I see happening in the world today is that we have a lot of people who are stuck in the basic needs levels. There are a lot of people whose physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest) are not being met. There are a lot of people in the world who spend their entire day just trying to meet these most basic human requirements. This isn’t just in third world countries...this is here, in the United States...every day.
When you have to work all day long to obtain food, water, warmth and rest there isn’t a lot of time left over for anything else. Think about how the homeless spend their time...we don’t see them really socializing unless and until they have obtained their most basic needs. Then they can perhaps work on finding safety which is hard to come by on the mad streets. So let’s presume they are able to eat and find water and a safe place to sleep. Then they can perhaps make a friend or find someone to love.
And for the homeless population it kind of ends right there. They are out of the rat race. They are able to meet some needs and then they are done.
But let’s look at the rest of us. Many of us are able to find food, water, warmth and rest every day. It isn’t a struggle and if it is, it is a long line at Trader Joe’s. We go home to our houses and feel fairly secure and safe. Some more than others for sure. For some the most dangerous place they go every day is their home...
Then we move to the level of intimate relationships. We have those in abundance. We have work friends, old friends, new friends, lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, daughters and sons. Some of us have all of those relationships at the same time! To be sure, we have a lot of relationships. All the time.
So we move to the next level which is esteem needs. Once we have satisfied the first three levels, we move to prestige and accomplishment. And here is where most of us get stuck. Because guess what, there is never enough...
The first three levels (if you have the means at all) are fairly easy to obtain.
Food, water, warmth and rest - check!
Security and safety - check!
Belongingness and love - check!
For the privileged (that is us) most of came into the world and were just given the first three levels. We didn’t have to do anything to get them. We didn’t have to work or strive or even put forth much effort...they were just handed to us and someone else made sure that we had them, all the time.
And one could even make the argument that they provided these first three levels so that we could attain the fourth. And I think we have been kind of primed to believe that there are only four levels.
So we spend our lives stuck in level four. Trying to satisfy our need for esteem, prestige and accomplishment. But this is level is a tricky bitch because we seem to be bred to believe that in this level, there is never enough. Now this feeling is present on every level...but because we tend to blow through the first three with little to no effort, it is easy to think that work is here in this fourth level. And there we spend our lives.
We live like this:
I am hungry - so I eat
I am thirsty - so I drink
I am cold - so I get warm
I am tired - so I rest
I need security - so I get a home
I need safety - so I get an alarm or cameras or a gun
I need love - so I find someone to love me
I need friends - so I pretend to be someone that others will like
I need prestige - so I further pretend to be someone that others will admire
I need accomplishment - so I buy and consume and grasp so that I can feel like I am accomplishing something
And for most of us, it stops right there. We never get any farther. Life lived.
But what about this most important fifth level?
For me this level of self actualization is really the goal of all the lower levels. I am achieving these lower levels just so I can be ready to do the really fucking hard work of level five. It is my entire purpose of my life.
I will write tomorrow about the fifth level because it warrants its own blog. But today, think about what happens to you, to us when we are able or unable to achieve any real success at the first four levels. What is life like and how does it get warped?
I see most of humanity right now being stuck in this endless cycle of level three and four. I need prestige and accomplishment and I am going to find it in level three and two and one. The more of these things that I can possess, the more I can delude myself that I am actualized. I can earn a living to provide my own most basic needs, I can buy a home that provides me shelter and safety. I can have relationships with others to make me feel like I belong. But then I take level four and use it to fill the first three levels over and over again. I need more food, better food, organic food, more expensive food. I need bottled water, expensive water. I need cashmere sweaters and expensive jackets for warmth. I need sleep number beds and expensive linens for my expensive and designer bed. I need a bigger and better home. I need to move to a better and more secure neighborhood and zip code. I need to have firearms and neighborhood watches to keep my home safe from others. I need to wield these first three levels as a shield to keep anyone from seeing that I really do not have much to offer. I fear that I lack prestige so I bolster and lie and pretend that I have more and that I am accomplished.
And so it goes...our endless meanderings through life...cycling through life hitting the glass ceiling between four and five because we have wholly misinterpreted what we were supposed to be doing on the first four levels.
The fifth level is really seeing, in my opinion, that our real job on each level is to ensure that we are helping others meet their own most basic needs on each level. It isn’t about us doing it just for ourselves. It is about making sure that we all do our part to help each other attain success on each level. This is the best and most productive use of a life and this is what level five is all about...
More on that tomorrow...I have to get to work so that I can level up.