The Privilege of Self Actualization.
I saw Maslow’s pyramid online the other day and took the time to read it.
For those of you unfamiliar, at the base of the pyramid are physiological needs: breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping, excreting, homeostatis and sex. The next level is safety or security of: body, employment, resources, morality, health, property, the family. And I am going to stop right there for a minute.
Most people in the world never get past these first two levels. And Maslow was kind of a stickler about the fact that if your needs are not met in one level, you aren’t really able to move up the pyramid to other levels. I would argue that one might think they can, but they will always and habitually get pulled back to the level of the struggle.
If you are not able to breathe good air and respirate effectively, you aren’t all that concerned about working. You are trying to BREATHE. Ask anyone with COPD or other lung condition whether they are super concerned with much of anything beyond breathing when their airways are compromised. You are gonna get a resounding NO! But when they are able to get relief, they can now turn their attention to their job, their family, their house, their own morality. But when they are struggling for the next breath, forget about it.
The next level after safety is love and belonging: friendships, sexual intimacy, family. Taking our friend the asthmatic, she can now breathe thanks for being able to access effective modern medicine, and because her breathing issue has been handled she could secure and maintain employment and meet other needs on the safety level so now she is thinking she can rock a relationship. She has the bandwidth to date and secure a relationship, and if dating isn’t her thing, she has the time and resources to seek and maintain friendships.
The next level, is esteem: self-esteem, confidence, respect of self and others. Now I think personally that Maslow got it wrong here. I think that this level should come BEFORE love and belonging. Because any relationship forged that does not have esteem as its basis, is really pretty doomed. So I would argue that esteem should come before love. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that without esteem love is just another addiction. Yep, I just said that. Esteem is what keeps love from taking over and becoming everything. Without esteem to guide and light the way, love and belonging get toxic pretty quickly. Fuck, do I know that!
So our sister with the breathing issue, meets her needs on the first four levels and then she can begin to do the work of self actualization. She can begin to do the final life work of achieving one’s full potential. So there is actually more work to do at the top of the pyramid than the bottom. But clearly, without being able to achieve some margin of success with the first four levels, the fifth one is never gonna happen!
What flashed to me when I saw this pyramid was that my life has afforded me the privilege of not only getting to the the top, but living there now. My physiological needs met. My safety issues handled. My esteem growing and being supported by the life choices I have made which has allowed me to eschew the toxic pattens of relationshiping that never really brought me close to love or feeling like I belonged. And all of that work, brought me to a place where every single day I get to work on my own actualization. Be able to grow toward who it is I am supposed to become creatively, work with my prejudices because I can see them and deal with them, define my own code of morality and its priority in my life. I can work to resolve my issues and be spontaneous.
And what struck me hard was how lucky I was to be in this place in my life. How many people are able to say that they made it to the top? How much privilege got me here? A fucking ton! This is not to say that I didn’t have issues along the way in each level. But I either did the work, or my privileged station in life, gave me a ready solution. I have worked hard but in that work, I have to own the fact that my struggles do not compare to many others fighting daily to get out of the first level...
I guess all of this is to say that I am super blessed to spend as much time as I do every day writing and growing, evolving. I guess I always “knew” this on some level but seeing the pyramid and thinking about it, really hit me at how incredibly blessed I have been and am. And that this gift isn’t given to everyone and there are many others who have been given the gift, but won’t do the work. Can’t do the work. So I guess I see this as a double blessing. I am able to do the work AND I want to.
Sometimes it seems like the inner work is too much. Continuing to take ourselves to task about ourselves is not always a great deal of fun. Diving into those parts of ourselves that really would prefer to not be examined more closely, hard and uninviting. But, I can say that the reward is totally worth the effort.
There is more here on this pyramid that I want to think about, talk about. But for today, I will leave you with the gratitude I have for being where I am, who I am and what I am. It isn’t always a picnic being me...or living with me (ask my kids) but I do see that I am so very blessed to be here at all, breathing in and out, living inside with food to eat. Surrounded by beauty and love and feeling decent about myself most of the time. And finally seeing that all of that means that I get to do the work of finding out how all that I have accomplished thus far can benefit another. Because me actualizing myself only for myself means that I missed the entire fucking point.