Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Abraham Maslow.

I learned about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in Psychology the other day.

In essence, Maslow argued that certain needs must be satisfied in order to achieve other needs. For example, one would not be looking for a loving relationship if one were literally starving to death, or suffocating to death. Their immediate concern would be to find food, or to continue breathing, in order to continue living. This seems pretty natural.

What got me thinking was the top layer of the pyramid, usually referred to as "Self-actualization needs". This subject remains a bit fuzzy, although Maslow provided a few ideas of what he meant for someone to be "self-actualized". Among them were a "need to live up to one's fullest and unique potential". He said that such self-actualized people should have "acquired enough courage to be unpopular, to be unashamed about being openly virtuous". In the website linked above, the author talks about Maslow's examples of self-actualized people: "The self-actualizers also had a different way of relating to others. First, they enjoyed solitude, and were comfortable being alone... They enjoyed autonomy, a relative independence from physical and social needs."

Now, for me, these qualities seem to conflict with some of the needs necessary to achieve any self-actualization. Many of the examples were "solitary" people, which tends to go against the fulfillment of "belongingness and love needs" in the third level of the pyramid. Also, Maslow's comment that the self-actualized acquiring "enough courage to be unpopular" seems to openly contradict his level of esteem needs, which describes "recognition and respect from others".

I'm sure there is a rational explanation for this, but at this time I choose to formulate some of my own. Perhaps when one reaches this ultimate need for "self-actualization," one would not need the lower levels of the pyramid. Perhaps this person would transcend the very boundaries of the pyramid, and be willing to go without the respect or companionship of others. Perhaps, when someone is self-actualized, they are prepared for death (they do not even need the lowest level of the pyramid ["physiological needs"]).

Or maybe self-actualization is just an extension of the pyramid. Perhaps Maslow had a pessimistic view of society and believed that for someone to be self-actualized they would necessarily have to reject the opinions of the masses, in an attempt at real "virtue". Nevertheless, Maslow has outlined many driving factors in human existence... and made them into a nicely colored flow chart.

But I still have my doubts about his method of thinking. I mean, what about Thoreau? He isolated himself from everyone. Was he becoming self-actualized then? Or was he just a nutcase?

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