This morning, while working on the development of a character for my current novel-in-progress, I was reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of need, a staple of introductory psychology courses. Even though Maslow’s theory has been criticized, his simple pyramid continues to crop up as a tool to examine our motivations. You may not agree with Maslow’s rankings, but if you look through the list, I imagine you can pinpoint your current greatest need, even if it’s not what you think it “should” be.
As I consider the past week, my primary need has shifted and changed from the lowest to the highest levels and everywhere in between in mere days. A week ago, I was clearly focused on the lower levels of this scale. Today, I’m moving up. I might even indulge in a bit of self-actualizing activity. Life will do that to you.
I think my biggest quibble with this list is its hierarchical nature. It places the more abstract, intellectual needs at the top, relational needs in the middle, and reduces the body’s needs to the lowest rungs. While I can’t say that I enjoy the days when my need of the day is sleep, avoiding pain/danger, or trying to coax my body into a healthier state, I’m beginning to wonder if our tendency to rank physiological and security needs as lesser makes it more difficult to accept them when they come to the forefront of life. I feel like I’m wasting time and not accomplishing anything lofty when I have a sick day. Being sick or in need of more security also puts me into a state of dependence, which is galling and humbling. Yet being in that place of weakness makes me consider deep, existential thoughts as I contemplate my frailty and mortality. It has also allowed others to care for me and for me to receive that care, fulfilling relational needs. So are “lower” needs intrinsically tied to the “higher” ones?
Maslow’s pyramid makes us think, but when we try to match life experience to a model, it works about as well as matching a pie up with someone’s face. While it seems a more egalitarian or fluid structure might make more sense, the one thing that I think this list gets right is that the relational needs are right in the middle of it all.
So what do you really need today?