Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Maslow's Triangle

Where are you on the triangle of life?

Abraham Maslow was a humanist psychologist who in the 1940s hypothesized that humans have a hierarchy of needs.

His ideas are often presented in the form of a triangle, with the basic needs as the triangle base.

The basic needs are grouped into five categories: survival, security and safety, sense of belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Survival means basic necessities such as water, food, clothing, shelter. These are the things that are required in order for a human to live.

Security and safety means many things. It means having the doors locked. It means financial security, which may mean many things to different people but to me means being able to pay your bills. It means being healthy, and that might include having health care for a lot of people.

Sense of belonging means that you have friends and family. It means society and community. It means people are not singular individuals but instead are part of a larger (and hopefully greater) good. People do not stand alone all the time. Loneliness can be a real killer, so this is very important. People may meet this need through family, clubs, religion, sports, and other ways.

Esteem means that you are valued and feel you have value. People must feel they are contributing and have something to contribute. This is also reversed: people need other people and things (such as ideals) to respect, as well. It might mean a little hero-worship and having someone to look up to, like a sports hero or a saint. Self-respect is important so long as it is not out of control.

Self-actualization means a person is at the very top of the triangle. A self-actualized person will be a learner, someone who seeks self knowledge and worldly knowledge. She will be aware of self and devote time to her own needs. She will know joy. She will accept responsibility for her mistakes and move on. She will not dwell upon weakness but instead will acknowledge it and choose to either keep it or do something about it. She will be committed to helping others and will feel kindly towards others and will want to be of service to humanity.

Given what I see around me, not to many people, including myself, are at the top of the triangle these days. Most seem to fall somewhere near the bottom, fighting over scraps. I see people insecure in their nation, in their families, in their religions, in their lives. Particularly during this recession, security has taken a nose dive as so many people worry about their retirement. Health care remains an unknown and even if Congress makes changes, someone will find a way to rape the system and cause more havoc than good.

Obviously as funding for the arts and education tumbles, the higher courses of life will crumble too. The beauty will be gone and we'll all be wallowing amongst the midden heap as things are not properly cared for.

Our base is not sturdy. As a nation, in families, as individuals, many humans are now looking more like a topless volcano than a triangle.

It's kind of scary, isn't it?

For more information, see here. The Wiki article is here.


  1. While Maslow's triangle seems to me to be overly deterministic, it reminds me of a much more recent book, The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. The book's subtitle nicely sums up its argument: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. The authors have a great deal of evidence comparing "Anglo Saxon" (competitively individualistic and focused on materialism and wealth accumulation) type societies with more socially democratic European ones to support their case. There's a review that gives a flavour of the book here:
    but it seems to me that they are proposing knocking out the base of the triangle. If everyone is guaranteed as a human right (and Rooseveldt wanted to introduce a second bill of rights to guarantee this for all US citizens) survival and security and safety, then in such a supportive society a sense of belonging comes as a matter of course, and esteem and self-actualisation are possible for all who are capable of them.

  2. so fascinating and ultimately true..thanks for the good reading above sandy

  3. I think you're very intelligent, educated and open-minded Anita. Am I going to get in trouble for saying that I wouldn't have guessed you are from here? Don't matter. I'm saying it. One of my new resolutions (since quitting smoking, having a very sick mother, and realizing how short and precious life is), is to be true and honest and open about me and my convictions. I'm trying to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks. I like what I think and if they don't like me, too bad. There.


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