I first learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in my high school psychology class. My teacher insisted that we internalize and understand the topic. He was, and is, a great teacher (he’s enjoying retirement now). He was a “Don’t judge others until you take a walk in their shoes” kind of teacher. What he taught me about Abraham Maslow has stuck with me to this day.
Maslow’s Hierarch is usually drawn as a five-level pyramid. The concept is that one needs to fulfill the lowest pyramid levels before moving further up, like building the base of a pyramid before the apex. However, it’s not impossible to fulfill some aspects of a hierarchical level “out of order,” it would just be more difficult to do so without satisfying the foundational needs first.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from base to apex are as follows:
Physiological: These are the basic needs people have. They include such things as food, air, water, shelter, warmth, sleep, etc. Without most or all basic human needs met, one is unlikely to focus on the next level of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
Safety: This is the first deprivation need. After one’s immediate need to survive is met, the next level to focus on includes physical safety. Perhaps one can understand when a person puts themselves, or another in harm’s way in order to obtain basic physiological needs. Aladdin stealing bread in the marketplace is a simple Disney example.
Social Belonging: What do people seek next if they are safe and have their basic physiological needs met? Social belonging refers to friendship and emotional connections with others. Humans are social organisms, and there is a general need for connection. Obtaining the third level in Maslow’s Hierarchy can help ensure the first two levels of needs will be met. People are safer in larger groups and don’t go hungry as often when working together for a common goal.
Esteem: Not only does this forth pyramid level concern everyone’s desire to obtain some measure of respect, but it also covers cognitive and aesthetic needs. Cognitive need is the need or desire to explore, to gain knowledge, to satiate one’s curiosity. It doesn’t matter what the curiosity is per se; learning about plate tectonics or why Kim Kardashian is famous are (surprisingly) in the same category. Aesthetic needs are the need to experience what is beautiful such as looking at artwork, listening to the sounds of a stream, or enjoying someone’s smile.
Self-Actualization: This pinnacle level is attained when a person recognizes and achieves their full potential as a human being. Maslow hypothesizes that one must fulfill all the previous levels in order to reach this final goal that deals with morality, spirituality, and overall contentment.
How many people in today’s environment can focus on Maslow’s top two pyramid levels? If I have achieved “esteem” and “self-actualization,” what can I do to recognize that others may still be struggling with “social belonging” or “safety” or “physiological” levels of the hierarchy?
I would note Maslow’s Hierarchy isn’t flawless, nor will it answer the “why” to any particular behavior, but the idea he brings forth of the hierarchy of needs of individuals, is relevant. People’s actions are based on what they need to do first, and what they want to do, second. However, what happens if what needs to be done cannot be done? What if someone cannot feed themselves or their family? What actions will they take to accomplish that basic need? What is the motivation for their actions?
I encourage you to take Maslow’s concept and apply it to situations that might not make sense to you, particularly when it concerns the behavior of others. After all, what would you do if your region was without food or clean water? What would you do if you were truly persecuted for your ethnicity, religion, gender identity, etc.? I believe the more we seek to understand each other and help fulfill the basic needs of others, the stronger we become as a community. Let’s take a walk in each other’s shoes.
A Theory of Human Motivation: http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm