The Human Hierarchy of Needs

The Human Hierarchy of Needs

“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”—William Butler Yeats

I’ve never questioned the fact that we humans share a commonality of needs. I even accepted, as I think most of us did, that Maslow’s Hierarchy made enough sense to have value as a motivational tool. However, I did wonder about the reason for its development during WWII. One would have thought there was little need for a motivational tool beyond simple survival then. A possible reference to what might someday be when things returned to “normal” in a world gone cockeyed for far too long?  Now doesn’t that just sound familiar. Our crooked world today has certainly set us on the edge of a precipice we can’t seem to see over. We all give out embarrassed laughs when we refer to returning to ‘normal’, suggesting we understand too well that what we once thought of as normal may have been responsible for much of the chaos we find ourselves in currently. But that said, I realize in stressful times like these Maslow’s Hierarchy gets mixed up in a way that would make any ladder a dangerous device to rely on.

As I study his pyramid of human needs, I notice I’ve jumped around in a most disorganized fashion. Maybe my age has a lot to do with where I am now, but I’d say I’ve satisfied the upper and lower reaches but find only the middle still challenging. Those requirements were supposed to be taken care of long before self-actualization at the very top. As usual, I’ve started at the end of the menu, ordering dessert before the entre. But rather than berate myself for it, I’ve been feeling that it might be something we’ve all missed along the route to fulfillment of our personal potential.

Recently, a friend and I compared notes on our sense of euphoria when we learned the state we live in (New York) had us properly listed as having received the Covid vaccination on the exact date the second shot was received. We both laughed over our joy at being so easily recognized without error. I also remember we both felt high with the delight of belonging. A little later that evening I looked out my window on a mountain in Vermont and noticed more cabins around me lit up. Lights glowed and twinkled through a raging storm that would ordinarily have seemed frighteningly aggressive but made the collective of people in those cabins even closer to each other. That feeling took me higher on the scale of belonging, and I realized the need to join forces with humanity has not been given its due on the hierarchy of human needs.

We Americans, and perhaps many on our planet during the 21st century, have been encouraged to put realizing our personal potential ahead of satisfying the need to belong. I’m quite sure the pandemic has brought this unsatisfied necessity to light so we can see the empty rung on the ladder of requirements in full light. It’s time we repaired that rung of belonging properly to make the ladder safe again in case we need to use it once we’re back to “normal”.

6 Responses to The Human Hierarchy of Needs

  1. A typically thoughtful essay beautifully expressed, Sidney. Your view of twinkling lights in homes across the snowy landscape is evocative and profound. I think of how lights inside houses were absolutely forbidden during war times for precisely the reason that they signaled life and hope and togetherness. But lights re-appear. Life, hope and togetherness are not snuffed out. Avanti!

    • We are indeed resilient, and your comment speaks fully to that. I do believe artists make the best fighters, as you suggest. We can count on them. Thanks so much for your comment, and let’s hear from you again.

  2. Wonderful essay. I remember in sociology class not understanding the pyramid, probably didn’t even fully understand self-actualization. As I look back at my life I realize that all my professional turns were around belonging in a group, a team and that satisfaction was far more meaningful then our products. So like you I would put that at the apex.

    Self-actualization seems a bit like purposeful myth to fuel our economy and thus I wonder if my vagueness in not understanding the meaning when I was in college is purposeful. In the end self-actualization almost by self-explanation is whatever the individual wants, which could br riches,status, fame, even separation form the society we live in.

    My hope is you will send your essay and a request for reconsideration to the sociological associations that still maintain its viability.

    • I appreciate your long and thoughtful comment. I need to think about this further. I was referring more to the less sophisticated meaning of self-actualization which my protagonist would take to mean the opportunity to be the person she wanted to be even if her family and/or society didn’t want that. She would come first instead of them. The book I’m writing now is a rude awakening for her. If we put ourselves first we often end up unhappy and last. Thanks for your comments, as always, they make the writing worthwhile.

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