needs: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion
2) Safety: security of body, employment, resources, the family, health, property
3) Love/belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy, social acceptance
4) Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others
5) Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, truth
– Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seems to see mankind as a pragmatist. It is taught in most introductory psychology classes without any caveats, quibbles or discussion. Like The Holy Bible, it has become part of Western Civilization’s accepted “truth”.
Love/belonging is in the middle below safety(2) and above morality(5). If mankind were a logical being, this might have been a valid structure. No logical person would voluntarily leave the safety of their homeland(2) and their family(2) to rejoin their buddies(3) in a foreign war that they know doesn’t respect others(4), won’t solve any problems(5), and is based on a number of glaring and obvious lies(5). They’ve seen others die(1). They know without any doubt that the task is dangerous(2) and the work ineffective(5). Yet they go again and again. When they don’t go, they’re often consumed with a feeling that they should have gone; that they should be there. Soldiers and sailors have been doing this in great numbers for millennia. If national pride or religion is involved, they rarely decline an opportunity to enlist or reenlist.
We champion war after war when this type of enterprise flies in the face of reason, logic, or actual self-preservation. Psychology has missed a vital piece of the puzzle that is human behavior.
Furthermore, the psychology profession doesn’t seem concerned that the “science” they’re practicing or teaching doesn’t accord with the facts(5). They go on teaching dogma that even a rudimentary perusal of history or a newspaper would exclude from consideration.
From a perspective of pure pragmatism, human behavior often makes little sense.
I have concluded that the desire for love and inclusion motivates most of our otherwise inexplicable behavior. Rather than being in the middle of the hierarchy, it sits near the very top and, like all the other level 1 “needs,” is instinctual and happens without conscious thought and, often, in place of conscious thought. We might explore this for a while.
Why would a person charge an enemy battle line having just seen others die trying? What would induce an otherwise normal and sane person to run toward death or severe injury?
What motivates a person to enlist and reenlist for hazardous duty?
What motivates firemen to rush into burning buildings, having seen injured and killed colleagues?
Why would a policeman charge after an armed suspect?
Why would a couple long for a child, knowing the pain and expense involved?
I have a clue to this perplexing behavior.
Above all else, more than life itself, we want to belong. The desire to belong supersedes all other motivations except breathing by a wide margin. We will walk through fire for love and loyalty! This desire drives much of human behavior and it is the clear and constant motivation behind countries, armies, churches, tribes, and especially families.
Furthermore, when belonging is threatened, it appears that man’s curiosity, our desire to know the truth disappears and, in its place, a terrible and tenacious loyalty blinds us and makes us easily deceived. This happens despite intelligence or education. It consistently ignores obvious facts and twists others to fit an “acceptable” paradigm that doesn’t threaten belonging. This didn’t come to me easily. Equally problematic, it isn’t easy to persuade others to look closely at what actually motivates them.
I grew up in a home with international connections. My father was born in Africa and worked in South America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. I had friends who were Moslems and friends who were Buddhists, friends who were Hindus and friends who were Christians. Because of this wider perspective, I was able to maintain some distance from the mainstream which surrounded (and still surrounds) me.
I was intensely active in several twelve-step spiritual programs for twenty years. The traditions of these groups are unusual: there is no true leadership; decisions are made by consensus, deciding together what is best for the group as a whole. The precondition for membership is self-identifying with the problem. Membership is anonymous, non-political, and inclusive.
After that, I spent three years in intense and sustained training as a spiritual counselor under Bert Hellinger and several of his understudies. There I learned about problems in the human soul, and, experientially (coming from experience rather than theory or belief; discovered; non-theoretical), what causes them and what fixes them. Here I learned about the invisible connections we share with each other and about the empathy with which these connections can be sensed.
It dawned on me that I was looking at the work of our Creator. Please don’t take this as a religious assertion. I merely noted that there are “books” out there that could truly enlighten us if only we had the audacity to “read” them. Let’s just for the moment postulate that we don’t need to have someone else tell us who God is; that we can, if we make the effort, connect with a power greater than ourselves; a power that we don’t define or command; a power that doesn’t exclude; a power that has made us a permanent part of Creation – all of us, saints and sinners, wise men and fools, kings and peons.
I also took a different vantage point and considered myself in a larger context. I saw my ancestors by the thousands fighting among themselves but also cooperating; growing, hunting, gathering, and intermarrying. They didn’t necessarily know of each other. They were doing whatever mankind did – foolish or purposeful, benevolent or malicious. These myriad bloodlines coalesced in me – and everyone else on the planet. And then I looked at my children and grandchildren and off into the distant future where I am an ancestor to almost everyone on Earth – assuming, of course, that mankind doesn’t destroy itself and its environment in the meantime.
I saw the foolishness we have gotten ourselves into; the squabbling over -isms and dogma as if that is what matters. What matters is all of us; our whole family; not what we wish for or imagine, but the fragile and fleeting reality of our entire family as a whole; as a unit; something truly indivisible.
Let us seek the deeper truth; the unbiased and unvarnished essence of humanity, and let us treasure what we share rather than dispute the minor details of what should be a guardianship for our progeny.
©David N. Dodson, November 2014, Phoenix, AZ