Thursday, May 12, 2011

Maslow Was Probably Right

I know I have some bigger thoughts somewhere, some deeper ambitions. But I just can't connect with them right now. All I can think about are floors, paints, stains, cabinets, dust, scratches, drips, leaks, outlets with no power, and two all-important questions: a) where will my dog stay today, and b) where will we stay tonight.

Abraham Maslow was probably right. His "Hierarchy of Needs," seemingly somewhat out of favor right now, feels just about dead-on accurate to me. If you ever took Psychology 101 in college, or even some Psych course in high school, you remember Maslow:

There are five different levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

1.Physiological Needs
These include the most basic needs that are vital to survival, such as the need for water, air, food and sleep. Maslow believed that these needs are the most basic and instinctive needs in the hierarchy because all needs become secondary until these physiological needs are met.

2.Security Needs
These include needs for safety and security. Security needs are important for survival, but they are not as demanding as the physiological needs. Examples of security needs include a desire for steady employment, health insurance, safe neighborhoods and shelter from the environment.

3.Social Needs
These include needs for belonging, love and affection. Maslow considered these needs to be less basic than physiological and security needs. Relationships such as friendships, romantic attachments and families help fulfill this need for companionship and acceptance, as does involvement in social, community or religious groups.

4.Esteem Needs
After the first three needs have been satisfied, esteem needs becomes increasingly important. These include the need for things that reflect on self-esteem, personal worth, social recognition and accomplishment.

5.Self-actualizing Needs
This is the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others and interested fulfilling their potential.


There are times in life, even for those of us who haven't been caught up in any of the great tragedies of history, when it feels impossible to get beyond the first level. Maybe a bit into the second level of "safety." This is one of those.

We focus on food, clothing, toothpaste, temperature, a place to shower. Not much else. Even on those days when we've had a television, I haven't watched anything except a Piers Morgan interview with Chelsea Handler. The newspapers sit unopened and yellowing in the front yard. We traveled somewhat numbly through the recent tragedy of storms and tornados, because, for us, life without electric power and then life when electric power came back on were really not all that different.

My most elaborate concern, one I've seen in my wife and daughter, too, has been, where is my safe haven? Where is that one place where I can put what few things I keep with me and know that no one will mess with them? Where is that one place where I can be and not be bothered? Some days, that's been difficult to find. What is more difficult, what I now realize is the psychology of manipulating people either individually or in groups, is when that safe haven isn't in the same place twice, or when a person adapts to a small, safe space, only to discover that the next day it is smaller. That's how you break people (or crack them, like Melvin in Office Space). The most beautiful moment of the last month was the day my wife cleaned up all the debris, washed the towels, put up new shower curtains and created a clean, well-lighted place in the basement that was the only escape from the chaos.

What's been an epiphany for me is that, having gotten into this mindset, I currently have zero interest in getting out of it. I'm not thinking, Gee, I can't wait until all of this is done so that I can get back to reading Marcel Proust. No, I'm thinking Chik-fil-A would be good and maybe I'll go to bed again early tonight. We're not thinking, wow, the floors are done, let's move everything back upstairs as soon as possible. No, we're often not thinking, just walking through the empty rooms, looking at floors and walls and out windows. When we are thinking, it's about where something is that we can't find or if the milk is still good. There's not a strong urge to wipe dust off of walls or to wash dishes from three weeks ago.

There just this feeling that the existence we have today is better than it was three or four days ago, and somehow, that's enough. There's no rush at all to get back to what we once had. I'm guessing that people who have recently faced real tragedies and disasters, rather than the self-bought, self-inflicted inconvenience we're in the middle of, are experiencing a similar mindset.

The top of that pyramid looks like a pretty tough climb from down here.


Billy said...

Lest I become less than predictable, here are my reactions:

(1) Why did you not mention SEX as one of the essential physiological needs? It's there for a reason, and it should not be overlooked too lightly.

(2) Your observations push me into immediate thoughts of The Road, the ultimate book reminding me of this lovely pyramid and What's Truly Important.

(3) It's odd that you confess to being far far away from "self-actualized", yet you're also in a better place emotionally/psychologically than you were when you were closer to it. Wouldn't this go against Maslow's system? Is this your mind telling you that the pyramid you had previously constructed needed massive renovation as well?

Anonymous said...

i loved your introduction to maslow thanks for using your hard bought time

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Mr. B.Nain said...

Maslow was wrong. See SSRN article:
Nain, Bhavya, Nain's Porous Hierarchy of Needs: An Alternative to Maslow's Hierarchy/Theory of Needs (June 14, 2013). Available at SSRN: