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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Revisiting an Old Pyramid

This post will tackle some problems by first taking a step back into Psychology 101.I hope you allow me to give a little psych review before I make a point or two. We seem to need a model to illustrate some basic fabric of our human existence, so I'm going to use a concept most have seen before.

Maslow and The Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow emphasized the importance of self-actualization, which is a process of growing and developing as a person to achieve individual potential. Maslow first introduced his concept of a hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation."

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is usually displayed as a pyramid with the lowest levels of the pyramid as the most basic human needs, while the top of the pyramid is the more complex needs  Needs at the bottom of the pyramid are pretty basic physical requirements including the need for food, water, sleep and warmth. Once these lower-level needs have been met, Maslow contends people can move on to the next level of needs, which are for safety and security. Then, a person can proceed with each new step.

Maslow based the hierarchy on these two groupings: deficiency needs and growth needs. Within the deficiency needs, each lower need must be met before moving to the next higher level. Once each of these needs has been satisfied, if at some future time a deficiency is detected, the individual will act to remove the deficiency. The first four levels are:
1) Physiological: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.;
2) Safety/security: out of danger;
3) Belongingness and Love: affiliate with others, be accepted; and
4) Esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition.
(W. Huitt, "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Educational Psychology Interactive, 2007)
According to Maslow, an individual is ready to act upon the growth needs if and only if the deficiency needs are met. Maslow's initial conceptualization included only one growth need--self-actualization. Self-actualized people are characterized by: 1) being problem-focused; 2) incorporating an ongoing freshness of appreciation of life; 3) a concern about personal growth; and 4) the ability to have peak experiences. Maslow later differentiated the growth need of self-actualization, specifically identifying two of the first growth needs as part of the more general level of self-actualization (A. Maslow & R. Lowery, Toward a Psychology of Being, 1998) and one beyond the general level that focused on growth beyond that oriented towards self. (A. Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature,1971)

They are:
5) Cognitive: to know, to understand, and explore;
6) Aesthetic: symmetry, order, and beauty;
7) Self-actualization:  to find self-fulfillment and realize one's potential; and
8) Self-transcendence: to connect to something beyond the ego or to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential.

Maslow's basic position is that as one becomes more self-actualized and self-transcendent, one becomes more wise (develops wisdom) and automatically knows what to do in a wide variety of situations. Daniels (Maslows's Concept of Self-actualization, 2001) suggested that Maslow's ultimate conclusion that the highest levels of self-actualization are transcendent in their nature may be one of his most important contributions to the study of human behavior and motivation.

Needs and Ethics As They Once Related

Tim Bryce, business management consultant, ("Moral Decay,", October 14 2008) stated that even some with a decent work environment, benefits, and organization lacked important values. Many just say, "It's not like it used to be." In other words, concerns have changed. Bryce said in the older days the following was illustrative of good employees:

1. "It used to be a person's word was his bond. If he made a verbal commitment, you could count on it.  Today, lying and deceit are commonplace in just about every corner of our society.

2. "We used to have dedicated workers who cared about their work and doggedly saw a task through to completion.  Now, we no longer associate our reputations with our work products.

3. "We used to respect our bosses and were loyal to our companies.  As long as you were employed by someone, you bit your tongue and endeavored to help the company succeed."

Needs and Ethics of Today

What, then, once procured, would cause people to ditch the highest levels of self-actualization and transcendence? What is happening to ethics? Many believe we are facing an ethics crisis in our world, from the highest levels of government, business and the media down through every echelon of society. At the root of violence, crime, and other features of an unsafe environment is the lack of basic moral and ethical values.

In a survey of high school and middle school students, the 2000 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, the Josephson Institute conducted a biennial national survey on the ethics of middle school and high school students. The report was based on written surveys administered by randomly selected schools throughout the country in 2000. The margin of error is +/- 3 percent. It includes responses from 15,877 middle and high school students. Among the findings were the following:
1. "Nearly half of the high school students and a quarter of the middle schoolers say they could get a gun if they wanted to. More than ten percent of all students say they actually took a weapon to school in the past year.

2. "Seventy percent of the middle school students and 68 percent of the high school students say they hit someone in the past year.

3. "Sixty-six percent of the high schoolers and nearly a quarter of the middle schoolers say they could get drugs if they wanted to.

4. "Forty percent of the high school males and 30 percent of the high school females say they stole something from a store in the past 12 months.

5. "Ninety-two percent of the high schoolers lied to their parents in the past 12 months, 78 percent lied to a teacher, and more than one in four say they would lie to get a job.

6. "Seventy-one percent of the high school students admit they cheated on an exam at least once in the past 12 months (45% say they did so two or more times)."

What Is Going On?
Robert Gordis ("The Revival of Religion and the Decay of Ethics," Christian Century, 1984) stated long ago that the populace reels under the "helplessness felt by the average individual in seeing himself or herself crushed by the Behemoth of power represented by all the levels of government bureaucracy, the wealth of massive corporations and the ubiquitous impact of the press, the radio and television. One is overwhelmed by the new, potentially dangerous technology, and feels outraged by the unfamiliar 'permissive' patterns of behavior of the younger generation today."

Most modern men and women do, then, lament the sense of alienation and loneliness that seems to be just part of their destiny. Feeling powerless to effect change, many accept poverty, illness and squalor.

Where is their safe harbor from fears, doubts and uncertainties. Many immerse themselves in religion to escape the drug- alcohol- and sex-centered culture of today. For them, religion and irreligion are simple affairs: “Where there is no faith, there are no answers; where there is faith, there are no questions.” They see sinners as failures in their society who will someday receive their just punishment.

And, to me, religion may well be needed at the core of ethical development; however, to decline that action is a necessary requirement of faith is unacceptable. To deny to help uphold the procurement of all needs for all mankind is unethical. In other words, to hide behind an inactive religious faith, one that does little to lift up the sinner, forever denies self-transcendence (Thank you, Mr. Maslow).

Some, unfortunately, go to church simply to absolve themselves of their sins from the preceding week, not to correct any personal character flaw and certainly not to attempt to assist others in correcting their flaws. Instead, after being "cleansed," these worshipers revert to their indiscretions. 

People must lead by example. The morally handicapped will always persist in attempting to undermine the system of values. Though society should truly penalize immoral violations as opposed to looking the other way, it should also encourage teamwork and reward accomplishments. In addition, constructive criticism is lacking while destructive criticism is mostly applauded by the masses.  Basically, mankind just needs some common sense and respect for the human spirit.

If a return to morality means giving of one's self and putting aside self interests for the common good of all, then such things as honor, courtesy, pride, respect, sacrifice, courage, dedication, commitment, loyalty, honesty, perseverance, integrity, and professionalism must rebound. Perhaps, Maslow's model speaks most loudly of the lack of growth needs (review the hierarchy pyramid) in the 21st century. I, for one, believe those growth needs require new commitments to long-respected virtues. We are all responsible for lifting mankind to the peak of the hierarchy of needs. To reach the summit and deny needed assistance to others is unthinkable and, quite frankly, unacceptable.

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