The gist of what we have learnt from Maslow’s much acclaimed hierarchy of needs is this: People have different needs at different stages in their development. It starts from physiological, in which survival needs must be met. Then its about Safety, in which we must feel safe and secure. Then comes Social needs because of which we seek friendship, family, love and harmony. The fourth need is for recognition or self esteem where we want to be acknowledged and not be slighted or disrespected. Then comes the need for Self-Actualization, the need to realize one’s potential and become the best version of oneself. Later in his career, Maslow discussed a sixth level: transcendence, in which self-giving is supreme. This includes the quest to embrace the spiritual dimension of life on earth and beyond. Maslow termed the first four needs as “animal needs” and the next two as “higher needs”. According to him, the first 4 needs are felt by humans and animals alike while the next two are felt only by evolved developed humans. So far, so good. But the problem lies in his theory that the top of the hierarchy kicks in only if the other motivational needs are met. Simply put this translates into the argument that people get the urge to develop themselves and pursue goals greater than themselves if and only if all their other needs, i.e. the need for survival, safety, belonging and recognition are met. But we know that this argument is fragile as we are regularly exposed to people who despite having nothing, go all out to pursue worthy goals and help others. In many cases the first to help and the first to sacrifice are not those who have everything, but those who have nothing.
I believe that Maslow’s hierarchy encourages a materialistic school of thought. It indirectly suggests that one should pursue to fulfill higher motivations only once all animal needs are met. In other words, get into philanthropy after amassing enough wealth, relationships and fame. And I think that this school of thought has misguided many and have instilled in them a wrong set of priorities.
I think that all these needs exist within us and it’s our choice to pick and choose which one to pursue. If you pursue only animal needs, you might end up living a purposeless life. On other hand, if you neglect your animal needs you will not be fulfilling the responsibilities that you have towards yourself and the ones who depend on you. Pursue each and every need in a balanced way, would be my mantra for success and significance.
Dr. Sangeeth Ibrahim