The Needs of the One
“What’s necessary is never unwise.” ~ Sarek, Star Trek (2009)
Think about that phrase for a minute: what is necessary is never unwise. The term “necessary” goes hand-in-hand with the term “need” and how often do we use the term “need” in a given day? I need a new cell phone. I need to be with my friends. We need a new computer. America needs some new leadership. The Democrats need to wake up. Someone needs to do something about it. You need to pay your bills. You need to get a job. You need to grow up. You need to take responsibility. You need this and that and the other thing. We sure are a needy group of people, aren’t we?
The term “need” implies a thing that must be done; that failure to do whatever the word is attached to will result in the destruction or non-survival of something, most often implying that that something is ourselves. But what is actually necessary for us to survive as human beings? Is there any way that we can prioritize what it is that we really need.
Fortunately for us, there are people who already have.
“When the chips are down, these ‘civilized’ people will eat each other. You’ll see. I’ll show you.” ~ The Joker
In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a theory that has since come to be known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is a system of prioritizing needs that is now taught in introductory psychology classes and even basic marketing courses. This system outlines five general levels of needs that human beings have and the priority given to them by most people, whether they are aware of it or not. From lowest to highest, they are:
- Physiological Needs – The most basic needs of the body including food and water (energy), air, homeostasis, sleep, expulsion of waste, desire for sex and procreation.
- Safety and Security – This includes security (health) of body and mind of self, offspring, family, friends, and other perceived allies, such as coworkers. Also including the protection of resources and tools, such as home or property, that enhance the survival of the same.
- Social Needs – Developing relationships, connections, and emotional attachments to others.
- Self-Esteem – The need to feel good about one’s self and to earn respect, dignity, and a sense of worth or value. Feeling confidence and motivation.
- Self-Actualization – Maintaining principles, morals, ethics, and codes; spirituality, accepting facts and realities, and developing a sense of oneness with God and fellow man.
Despite its criticism, Maslow’s Hierarchy is a very good tool that we can use to evaluate the importance of our own needs. We can even begin to understand the motivations and behaviors of others because the hierarchy doesn’t merely apply to the reality of a person’s needs, but also their perceptions of what they need.
For instance, I recall watching an episode of Law & Order in which the prosecutor tried a homeless man who killed another homeless man for an orange. The court acted in accordance with the letter of the law and held the man to their standards. But as we can see from the hierarchy, that falls under Self-Actualization, while the homeless man was trying to fulfill his more basic Physiological Needs. Had the prosecution understood Maslow’s Hierarchy, perhaps they would have given the man something to eat instead of a jail sentence, since that’s the only reason why he did what he did and I think any of us in a similar situation would have acted exactly the same way.
“For many people, one of the most frustrating aspects of life is not being able to understand other people’s behavior.” ~ Unknown
Levels one and two of the hierarchy deal with the part of the brain known as the amygdala. This is also called the lizard brain, which contains the primitive and instinctual survival needs as found in birds, reptiles, and small mammals. At this level, you are willing to forgo the needs of others in order to ensure your own survival and that of your most immediate friends and family (which also eventually give way to your own survival if the need is strong enough). Between the levels, however, a person will often take risks to their safety in order to satisfy their physiological needs. The brain decides that it needs energy or it will die and that it’s worth the risk of a little pain and discomfort to satisfy that need. No one puts off buying groceries to pay their mortgage (and if you do, that may be the source of your problems right there). They might tighten their belts and cut back in some cases, but when the chips are down, food and water come before house and home and most definitely before the law. Even corporations will set aside morals and values and deals with certain clients if they believe it could jeopardize their income, which is the lifeblood of any company.
Levels three and four of the hierarchy deal with the limbic system and neocortex of the brain. It’s the part found in dogs, primates, dolphins, and other higher mammals. Basic social skills come at this level (a pack mentality). Often times, people will degrade themselves in order to be part of a group, doing things that don’t necessarily make them feel good, but that stave off that feeling of being alone. This is the mentality of frat initiates and high school students that will suffer through ordeals to be part of the cool kids. They may give up their principles and their own self-worth, but at least they have the backing of the group. Many people also abandon certain religious or political ideologies that no longer resonate with them. If there’s a law that they don’t like, they try to change it.
The final level is a level that only exists in human beings and it’s related to the aspect of the brain that is responsible for creativity, reason, and imagination. It’s what gives us our ability to problem solve, develop technology, art, philosophy, language, symbols, and everything else that makes us distinct from animals. It has also allowed us to become detached from the balance that nature has so carefully maintained because we have overcome any and all predators with the only possible exception being ourselves.
“If the chips are down, then you might feel a little awkward at that sense of finality and being powerless to affect the outcome.” ~ Unknown, allusion to poker
There is a bit of wiggle room within this hierarchy. Through training, a person or animal can be made to ignore or change its basic instinct through reward-punishment and the installing of mental aberrations and false ideas into the reactive mind. But as I said before, the hierarchy also comes into play with regards to perception of needs. A person might choose to follow a certain religious code, for instance, because they feel it will lead to greater survival for a longer period of time in some afterlife. A mother might choose to step into harm’s way for the safety of her offspring because of a perception that the offspring is more important than her own needs. Mohandas Ghandi famously starved himself in an effort to quell violence that arose between Hindus and Muslims in India, but it’s reasonable to assume that even he would have asked for nourishment before finally starving to death.
Moreover, people have often been coerced and blackmailed into performing certain actions under threat of their needs not being met. Corporations like Monsanto specifically target our food supply, pharmaceutical companies make bad drugs that negatively effect our health, and governments allow the dumping of fluoride into our water systems because they know these are basic necessities of ours and that, if we don’t do everything it takes to ensure those needs are met properly, we will become weaker and more susceptible to outside influences. This is why it is important we make a concerted effort to ensure that the more basic needs of every human being on this planet are met and then work from there.
All in all, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a useful tool in helping to prioritize our basic needs as human beings. Things like cell phones and political leaders become less relevant in terms of our needs except in their ability to enhance our survival.
There are, of course, other lenses through which we might look at our needs and I will address some of those in my next post.
This entry was posted on September 9, 2010 at 4:35 AM and is filed under All, Economics, Health, Psychology, Science with tags Corporation, Ghandi, Hierarchy, Hindu, Joker, Law & Order, Limbic System, Lizard Brain, Maslow, Monsanto, Muslim, Necessary, Needs, Neocortex, Pharmaceutical, Physiological, Safety, Sarek, Self-Actualization, Social. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.