Abraham Harold Maslow is the guy who came up with “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” which a lot of people have heard of but maybe aren’t aware of its significance.
This book was first published in 1962, (the second edition was published in 1968) Toward a Psychology of Being examines Maslow’s thoughts on the self-actualized human. E.g. The top of the pyramid.
Humans have certain needs and when those needs aren’t satisfied, the result can be neurosis. A need is defined as that which, in its absence breeds illness, when present prevents illness and if restored, cures illness. Maslow also felt that the need is inactive, at a low ebb, or functionally absent in a healthy person. But, needs exist in a hierarchy and so when one need is satisfied the person becomes aware of another need. These needs produce motivation.
Maslow did not believe that a proper definition of motivation had yet been created, but he uses the concept anyway. The movement from one level of need to the next is what leads to motivation. Some people are strongly driven to grow, to constantly seek out more and more. Simply stated, they experience motivation; the inward desire to improve. It is this group that has reached the self-actualization level.
As people progress along the hierarchy, the satisfied need doesn’t entirely go away but stays in a sort of repressed state. Therefore, it is possible to regress if that need ceases to be met. Even a self-actualized person will fall back down the hierarchy if a lower level need becomes unsatisfied.
In his research, Maslow made an interesting observation about creativity in healthy, evolved, and mature, self-actualized people. He discovered that many who are considered creative were not really healthy and that creativity was not the sole property of what is considered the creative professions, such as artists and writers. In fact, people in many varied situations proved to be creative, that it was a tendency of self-actualized people.
Toward a Psychology of Being is written for psychologists. It’s no easy read. However, for anyone serious about understanding human behaviour it is worth the effort.
He doesn’t pretend to have easy answers or all the answers or solutions. He does seem to have an infectious hope for humanity. It’s refreshing and shines through the academic style of writing. There is an optimistic tone toward a future based on the intrinsic values of humanity. Maslow states that, “This inner nature, as much as we know of it so far, seems not to be intrinsically evil, but rather either neutral or positively ‘good.’ What we call evil behaviour appears most often to be a secondary reaction to frustration of this intrinsic nature.” He demonstrates that human beings can be loving, noble, and creative, and are capable of pursuing the highest values and aspirations.
Here are some of my favourite excerpts throughout the book…
“Every human being has both sets of forces within him. One set clings to safety and defensiveness out of fear, tending to regress backward, hanging on to the past, afraid to grow away from the primitive communication with the mother’s uterus and breast, afraid to take chances, afraid to jeopardize what he already has, afraid of independence, freedom and separateness. The other set of forces impels him forward toward wholeness of Self and uniqueness of Self, toward full functioning of all his capacities, toward confidence in the face of the external world at the same time that he can accept his deepest, real, unconscious Self.”
“Not allowing people to go through their pain, and protecting them from it, may turn out to be a kind of over-protection, which in turn implies a certain lack of respect for the integrity and the intrinsic nature and the future development of the individual.”
“The needs for safety, belonging, love relations and for respect can be satisfied only by other people, i.e., only from outside the person. This means considerable dependence on the environment. A person in this dependent position cannot really be said to be governing himself, or in control of his own fate. He must be beholden to the sources of supply of needed gratifications. Their wishes, their whims, their rules and laws govern him and must be appeased lest he jeopardizes his sources of supply. He must be, to an extent, “other-directed,” and must be sensitive to other people’s approval, affection and goodwill. This is the same as saying that he must adapt and adjust by being flexible and responsive and by changing himself to fit the external situation. He is the dependent variable; the environment is the fixed, independent variable.”
“Most people experience both tragedy and joy in varying proportions. Any philosophy which leaves out either cannot be considered to be comprehensive.”
“Knowledge and action are very closely bound together, all agree. I go much further, and am convinced that knowledge and action are frequently synonymous, even identical in the Socratic fashion. Where we know fully and completely, suitable action follows automatically and reflexly. Choices are then made without conflict and with full spontaneity.”
“Every age but ours has had its model, its ideal. All of these have been given up by our culture; the saint, the hero, the gentleman, the knight, the mystic. About all we have left is the well-adjusted man without problems, a very pale and doubtful substitute.”
“The question of desirable grief and pain or the necessity for it must also be faced. [Are] growth and self-fulfillment possible at all without pain and grief and sorrow and turmoil? If grief and pain are sometimes necessary for growth of the person, then we must learn not to protect people from them automatically as if they were always bad.
Not allowing people to go through their pain, and protecting them from it, may turn out to be a kind of overprotection, which in turn implies a certain lack of respect for the integrity and the intrinsic nature and the future development of the individual.”
“I believe that another task which needs doing before we can have a good world is the development of a humanistic and transpersonal psychology of evil, one written out of compassion and love for human nature rather than out of disgust with it or out of hopelessness.”
“The person who hasn’t conquered, withstood and overcome continues to feel doubtful that he could. This is true not only for external dangers; it holds also for the ability to control and to delay one’s own impulses, and therefore to be unafraid of them.”
“Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only when they are well used. . . . Not only is it fun to use our capacities, but it is necessary for growth. The unused skill or capacity or organ can become a disease center or else atrophy or disappear, thus diminishing the person.”