The great psychologist Abraham Maslow developed this hierarchy of needs based upon observations of monkeys. Simply put, he noticed that some needs take precedence over others. Iif you are hungry and thirsty, for example, you will tend to try to take care of the thirst first. Because you can do without food for weeks, but you can only do without water for a few days, thirst is a stronger need than hunger. Likewise, if you are very thirsty, but someone has put a choke hold on you and you can’t breath, which is more important?
Maslow took this idea and created his now famous hierarchy of needs. Beyond the details of air, water, food, and sex, he laid out five broader layers -- the physiological needs, the needs for safety and security, the needs for love and belonging, the needs for esteem, and the need to actualize the self, in that order.
1. The physiological needs. These include the needs we have for oxygen, water, protein, salt, sugar, calcium, and other minerals and vitamins. They also include the need to maintain a pH balance (getting too acidic or base will kill you) and temperature (98.6 or near to it). Also, there’s the needs to be active, to rest, to sleep, to get rid of wastes (CO2, sweat, urine, and feces), to avoid pain, and to have sex.
Maslow believed, and research supports him, that these are in fact individual needs, and that a lack of, say, vitamin C, will lead to a very specific hunger for things which have in the past provided that vitamin C -- e.g. orange juice. I guess the cravings that some pregnant women have, and the way in which babies eat the most foul tasting baby food, support the idea anecdotally.
2. The safety and security needs. When the physiological needs are largely taken care of, this second layer of needs comes into play. You will become increasingly interested in finding safe circumstances, stability, protection. You might develop a need for structure, for order, some limits.
Looking at it negatively, you become concerned, not with needs like hunger and thirst, but with your fears and anxieties. In the ordinary American adult, this set of needs manifest themselves in the form of our urges to have a home in a safe neighborhood, job security and a nest egg, a good retirement plan and a bit of insurance.
3. The love and belonging needs. When physiological needs and safety needs are, by and large, taken care of, a third layer starts to show up. You begin to feel the need for friends, a sweetheart, children, affectionate relationships in general, even a sense of community. Looked at negatively, you become increasing susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties.
In our day-to-day life, we exhibit these needs in our desires to marry, have a family, be a part of a community, a member of a church, a brother in the fraternity, a part of a gang or a bowling club. It is also a part of what we look for in a career.
4. The esteem needs. Next, we begin to look for a little self-esteem. Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, fame, glory, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation, dignity, even dominance. The higher form involves the need for self-respect, including such feelings as confidence, competence, achievement, mastery, independence, and freedom. Note that this is the “higher” form because, unlike the respect of others, once you have self-respect, it’s a lot harder to lose.
The negative version of these needs is low self-esteem and inferiority complexes. Maslow felt that Adler was really onto something when he proposed that these were at the roots of many, if not most, of our psychological problems. In modern countries, most of us have what we need in regard to our physiological and safety needs. We, more often than not, have quite a bit of love and belonging, too. It’s a little respect that often seems so very hard to get.
He also talks about these levels in terms of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the principle by which your furnace thermostat operates: When it gets too cold, it switches the heat on; When it gets too hot, it switches the heat off. In the same way, your body, when it lacks a certain substance, develops a hunger for it; When it gets enough of it, then the hunger stops. Maslow simply extends the homeostatic principle to needs, such as safety, belonging, and esteem, that we don’t ordinarily think of in these terms.
Maslow sees all these needs as essentially survival needs. Even love and esteem are needed for the maintenance of health. He says we all have these needs built in to us genetically, like instincts. In fact, he calls them instinctoid -- instinct-like -- needs.
Under stressful conditions, or when survival is threatened, we can “regress” to a lower need level. When you great career falls flat, you might seek out a little attention. When your family ups and leaves you, it seems that love is again all you ever wanted. When you face chapter eleven after a long and happy life, you suddenly can’t think of anything except money.
These things can occur on a society-wide basis as well. When society suddenly flounders, people start clamoring for a strong leader to take over and make things right. When the bombs start falling, they look for safety. When the food stops coming into the stores, their needs become even more basic.
A comment from BombsOverBaghdad in the previous post reminded me of the relevance of Maslow's hierarchy. Whether we are discussing the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed or any other issue that raises passions in others, it is quite a luxury to look down from our ivory towers and comment from above about what others should and should not find offensive and how they should respond. Indeed, if we have the time to blog and comment, we are probably somewhere in the top three levels of Maslow's hierarchy and most of us have probably never experienced deficits in the lower two levels growing up in this country.
The callousness with which we pass judgment over others in whose shoes we have never walked is reminiscent of Marie Antoinette's missive "let them eat cake". It is reminiscent of Barak Obama's discussion of why White America could not grasp that there are people in New Orleans who could not load up the SUV with a case of Perrier water and check into a hotel to wait out the storm.
If we have never experienced deficits in the basic two levels of needs, can we ever relate to those who have and those who do?