Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Maslow was wrong

Climbing Maslow's Pyramid
Dr. Maslow identified the universal needs of every human being and classified them going from most basic to highest. His claim was that a person would not be able to realize his true potential and attend to his higher needs unless his lower needs were met. For example someone who is on the brink of starvation will not worry about getting his doctorate (unless trying to get his doctorate is the cause of his starvation).


On the surface, Maslow's argument makes sense. One occupied with basic survival will not have the time or energy to worry about making the social register, being published or receiving the Nobel prize. The ephemeral would be eclipsed by the basic physiological requirements of existence.

Although Dr. Maslow's model is one of the few things that I remember from psychology 101, it is easy to disprove. Firstly, much of the world's art and literature has come from people starving in garrets and living hand to mouth under leaky roofs. Need proof? Just go have a look at a Van Gogh or listen to Mozart. We wouldn't have much of our art and music if it weren't for starving writers and musicians living in angst and poverty.


But the main thing wrong with Maslow's premise is that it goes counter to the basic premise of Judaism. The greatest self-actualization according to Judaism is achieving closeness to G-d. And the way to achieve closeness to G-d is to perform mitzvahs, the 613 commandments. Mitzvahs have no prerequisite preconditions. You do not need to be rich or even have a roof over your head to do a mitzvah. A person who doesn't have a lot to eat but makes a blessing on the food and shares it with others has sanctified both the food and himself before G-d. A person who doesn't earn much money but tithes it to share with those less well off than himself has performed an act of selflessness that defies his lower nature.

Maslow's premise, that we can only reach the higher parts of ourselves when our lowest needs are met doesn't take into account, our divine soul. It reduces our soul to the level of an animal. People have the tremendous capacity to overcome their circumstances and act in noble and G-dly ways even when they don't have all the resources at their disposal.

Believers of all stripes would do well to read the entire thing. Unbelievers are welcome, but I don't know that you'll come away with anything useful to you.

1 comment:

Mr. B.Nain said...

I have similar view about the incorrectness of maslow & erg hierarchy of needs.

See Nain, Bhavya, Nain's Hierarchy of Needs: An Alternative to Maslow's & ERG's Hierarchy of Needs (June 14, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2279375