Written by TREY HARRIS
I recieved this interesting e-mail today from sometime correspondent and Spiral Dynamics list contributer Trey Harris…
I realize that in a lot of circles, questioning Maslow might seem like blasphemy. But I’m not in those circles, and I’d love to posit that Maslow’s model, while useful, is not complete and, in fact, is a bit misleading.
(I’m rather new to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and came to it after my experience with Spiral Dynamics, so my understanding of it may be fundamentally flawed by viewing it through these spiral-colored glasses. Please keep this in mind as you read on!)
I have a bit of an issue with the “Self-Actualization” tier on the hierarchy. Maslow’s original intent may be different, but it seems as though most commentary on the Hierarchy considers this to be a catch-all category of all Needs that are growth-based (rather than deficit-based). While he later split out the categories of Cognitive & Aesthetic Needs, I would say there are still a couple specific sets of Needs that have at least as much impact as either of those:
1) Purpose/Meaning: It’s very common to hear that the main reason our consciousness is special among animals is that we are aware of our own death. And, as far as I’ve ever heard, this is true. And I believe this awareness of our life cycle leads directly, in a majority of cases, to questioning our purpose and the meaning of life. This category would also relate to the need for goals and direction.
2) Charity: I believe there is something fundamental about making it through the first three stages of Needs that allows someone to open up a capacity for sharing with those in need. Whether it’s medical/psychological help, monetary assistance, or simply extra attention, many people are driven by the need to give back. Gandhi and Mother Theresa might be examples of people driven by this Need.
3) Innovation: There are many people driven by the need to advance civilization, to innovate for innovation’s sake. They’re not trying to achieve because they lack self-esteem, or because of some cognitive need to understand things better, but simply because there is a desire to blaze trails. Neil Armstrong, Lewis & Clark, and The Wright Brothers all made their names because of this (complex) Need.
The other Levels can be split, as well. When we talk about Physiological needs, are we talking basic survival or better nutrition & exercise? When we discuss Safety needs, do we mean shelter or Customs Agents? Belongingness and Love can be split between Familial Love and Intimate Relationships, and Esteem can be separated into Internal and External rewards.
Most of these split levels (save maybe the Esteem segments) won’t occur at the same developmental stage (i.e., someone in need of their next meal is not thinking about getting to the gym), so the pyramid model would be incapable of maintaining these distinctions.
In fact, I think there is a flaw with the whole concept of this being a “hierarchy,” wherein one set of needs cannot be met until the others are fulfilled. For instance, I know plenty of people pursuing self-actualization (Level 5 or 7) who haven’t exercised (Level 1) in years. There are plenty of people who are driven by a need for cognitive understanding (Level 5 in the Adapted model) precisely because they did not fulfill their need for Love and Belonging (Level 3).
Thoughts? How is my understanding of this model flawed?