|This piece is adapted from the Editor's Introduction to the 3rd edition of Maslow's Toward a Psychology of Being, New York: Wiley, 1999.|
This is Part 1. Click here to go directly to Part 2.
Abraham H. Maslow (1908≠1970) first distinguished himself as a psychologist with his 1935 University of Wisconsin doctoral dissertation on "The Role of Dominance in the Social and Sexual Behavior of Infra-human Primates."1 It was the most thorough study of dominance and submissiveness relationships in monkeys that had yet been performed, and brought to light quite a number of important and surprising details about the character and consequences of these relationships. The most important and surprising of all was the discovery that the dominance-submissiveness relationship in monkeys is typically established not by fighting, as had been formerly supposed, but by visual contact in effect, by a staring contest not unlike the kinds of eye-contact dominance games often played by human beings.
Maslow's faculty mentor for this research was the young Harry F. Harlow, who later went on to become one of the most eminent psychologists and primatologists of his era. Many years later Harlow noted that Maslow's idea for this research "was entirely his own, and I don't know where he got the inspiration. ... [His] data on dominance in monkeys was the final definitive research in this area for approximately thirty years, and to say that it was ahead of its time is [a vast] understatement."2 Harlow was therefore understandably saddened he thought "a fine monkey [researcher] had gone down the drain" when Maslow, upon completing his doctoral degree, announced that he was henceforth "going to work strictly with people." But while saddened, Harlow was not surprised, for he had known "all along that Abe's interests surpassed the simians."3
What Harlow could not have known at the time is that Maslow's interests not only surpassed the simians; they also surpassed what the psychology of that day would have been willing to consider about human beings. In an undergraduate philosophy paper that has survived from the year 1928, when Maslow was only twenty, we find him expressing a view that had no doubt been building within him since an even younger age: namely, that human nature encompasses "wonderful possibilities and inscrutable depths," and that one can devote oneself to no higher task than that of rounding out this "larger, more wonderful conception" of human nature."4 Even today there is a substantial portion of psychology that would regard all talk of "wonderful possibilities" as something quite beyond the pale although, thanks in considerable measure to Maslow himself, that portion is not nearly so large as it once was. In any event, when Maslow announced that he would leave his simian researches behind and henceforth work "strictly with people," he already had a sense of where he was going with it, and he would certainly have known that in order to get there he would have to swim steadily against the strong main currents of his chosen profession. Never underestimate the power of those ideas and ideals and basic ways of seeing things that we acquire in the years of our youth, especially if they are infused, as they clearly were in Maslow's case, with a burning passion.
The Two Faces of Human Nature
"Wonderful possibilities, inscrutable depths" and a "larger, more wonderful conception" of human nature. It is a theme and tone that reverberate throughout the whole body of Maslow's subsequent life work as a psychologist. Examine the very first paragraph of the present book, Toward a Psychology of Being, and you will even find some of the same fervent words that were penned by the twenty-year-old undergraduate: "There is now emerging over the horizon a new conception of [human nature], a psychology that I find so thrilling and so full of wonderful possibilities . . .." And so it was from the beginning to the end. Even in the final weeks of his life he was writing to proclaim that humankind "has a higher nature and that this is part of [its] essence or more simply, that human beings can be wonderful out of their own human and biological nature."5
Sigmund Freud once observed, somewhat cynically, that "each of us will be well advised, on some suitable occasion, to make a low bow to the deeply moral nature of mankind; it will help us to be generally popular and much will be forgiven us for it."6 Although Maslow certainly never thought of himself as making a low bow to anything, it is nonetheless true that this "deeply moral nature" of humankind is precisely what he was aiming at throughout the whole span of his work.
At the heart of that larger, more wonderful conception of human nature that had been growing within him since the early days of his youth was a deep belief in spite of all appearances to the contrary that "people are all decent underneath."7 Do not suppose from this that he was some sheltered innocent who had never seen human nature's darker side. He knew perfectly well that people could be, and all-too often were, "nasty, mean, [and] vicious." Coming of age in the dark years leading up to and culminating in World War II, he was well aware that the pages of human history are stained with blood. In the smoke from the ovens of Auschwitz, Dachau, and all the rest that lingered in the air following the war, he saw as clearly as anyone the indisputable evidence that human nature is capable of every conceivable kind of violence, viciousness, and cruelty. He was also, from his early youth, a very astute observer of those evils of everyday life that are so routinely a part of ordinary social interaction: belittlement, slander, guile, deception, manipulation, exploitation, extortion, oppression the list could go on and on and still barely scratch the surface.
Light and dark, good and evil, the heights the depths. Not the least of Maslow's distinctions among psychologists is that he looked this duality of human nature square in the face and tried to make sense of it. The only other psychological figure to take it quite so seriously was Freud in his Civilization and Its Discontents, published in 1930. Freud and Maslow were both looking at the same human duality. Where they differed is in what they made of it. Freud's view on the subject was firmly in the tradition of the post-Darwinian years of the late nineteenth century, when he himself had come of age intellectually. His basic argument was that the human capacity for aggression, destruction, and so on, is on the very same biological footing as the powerful human drives for self-preservation and sexual gratification that it is nothing less than "an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition" in human nature. Human beings, therefore,
are not gentle creatures who want [only] to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. . . . As a rule this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures. [But] in circumstances that are favorable to it, when the . . . counter-forces which ordinarily inhibit it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien.8Although Maslow was an admirer of Freud and often acknowledged the intellectual debt he owed him, his approach to this particular centrally important point was the diametrical opposite in virtually every detail. Freud held that the human being is fundamentally selfish, lustful, and aggressive, and that any appearance of "decency" to the contrary comes only insofar as these powerful basic impulses are held in check by internal inhibitions and societal restraints. Essentially, what Maslow did was to turn this Freudian view of human duality inside-out. Human beings are certainly capable of being selfish, lustful, and aggressive but that is not what they are fundamentally. Down beneath the surface, at the psychological and biological core of human nature, what we find is a basic goodness and decency. When people appear to be something other than good and decent, it is only because they are reacting to stress, pain, or the deprivation of basic human needs such as security, love, and self- esteem. They are like cornered animals, lashing out in self- defense. The threats might be misperceived, the lashing-out might be misguided and excessive, and the result might be indisputably "evil" by any definition of the term. Still, it does not come from some inherently evil tendency of human nature, but only as a reaction to the circumstances of one's own particular corner of the human situation.
Just as Freud was not the first person ever to suggest that human beings are fundamentally selfish, lustful, and aggressive, Maslow was by no means the first to proclaim that goodness is fundamental and evil merely a reaction to circumstance. The idea can be traced back at least as far as the classical Jewish view of human duality, dating to the late pre- Christian period, which held that even in the most wicked there is a "still small voice" that prompts the heart to justice, kindness, and all the other acts and qualities befitting a creature made "in the image of God." Much the same concept appears among classical Christian writings, as for example when Thomas Aquinas argued in the thirteenth century that at the deepest core of human nature there lies a "natural inclination to virtue" that can be obstructed by depravity, but never wholly extinguished. Maslow's view of basic goodness and reactive evil was also closely akin to the theory propounded by the philosophes of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and it bore more than a passing resemblance to the vision of a basically decent human nature espoused by the popular socialism to which he was exposed in the 1920s and 1930s. As his close friend, the eminent historian Frank Manuel, observed in a eulogy shortly after his death: "The historical world was alien to his training, and he would be amazed to find that he was sometimes rediscovering pristine wisdom." But there is also the second part of what Manuel noted, which was that he, in turn, "was always amazed at the freshness with which [Maslow] re-created an ancient idea. It was familiar, and yet there was something new about it. It was Abe's."9
A New Theory of Human Motivation
What was fresh and most distinctively Abe's in his new/old vision of basic human decency was that he bolstered it with an original and quite compelling theory of human motivation. From the late nineteenth century up through about the mid- 1950s, there was a general theory of motivation that held sway so strongly as to constitute a kind of official party- line orthodoxy. Consider the various needs, drives, and desires that move human beings to behave in all their various ways. Some of these motivating factors, such as the need for food, are clearly primary, basic, built- in to the biological core of the species; while others, such as the desire to collect stamps or butterflies or violins, are clearly not built-in to the biological core of the species. Borne of the Darwinian theory of evolution, the essential tenet of the orthodox doctrine of motivation was that the innate, intrinsic motivational endowment of a species can consist only of such needs, drives, desires, impulses, and the like, as conduce to the survival of the individual or the propagation of the species in short, self-interest, sexuality, and aggression. These are the primary motives, and anything else is only secondary and derivative, something acquired by an individual along the way because it proves instrumental in the satisfaction of one or another of the primary motives. The orthodox doctrine also held that a motive could be regarded as basic to the species only if it manifested itself universally throughout the species. Thus food-hunger is basic, because it appears in everyone, whereas the motive to collect stamps or violins cannot be seen as basic, because it appears in only a few. Personally, I would walk barefoot over hot coals to collect a fine violin, but find the prospect of collecting stamps about as appealing as watching cars rust in the parking lot. An avid stamp collector would of course see it the other way around. But when the pangs of hunger set in, we will both join all the rest of our species at the feeding trough.
The same logic that applies to such trifles as collecting stamps or violins applies with equal force to the whole range of human motives that do not fall directly into the bins of self-interest, sexuality, and aggression. Is "love" a basic human motive? Clearly not, except insofar as it serves the deeper purposes of self- interest or sexuality. Is a thirst for beauty a basic human motive? Clearly not, as evidenced by the vast numbers of human beings in whom it rarely if ever finds expression. Justice, kindness, charity? Here again, clearly not, as evidenced by the vast numbers in whom such inclinations seem to be lacking. And what of those in whom the motives for justice, kindness, charity, and the like, do seem to appear? Whether conscious or not, the true motive is ulterior. Among other things, "it will help us to be generally popular and much will be forgiven us for it."
A New Look at the Everyday Reality of Human Motivation
Maslow's revision of the orthodox theory of motivation first appeared in two papers10 of 1943, although it did not become widely known until these papers were re-printed as the first two chapters of his Motivation and Personality,11 first published in 1954. At the heart of the revision lay two observations that anyone can readily verify by carefully observing the details of his or her own motivational life. The first was that we rarely if ever achieve a state of motivational quiescence; at virtually every waking moment we are host to one motive or another, even though the motive might sometimes be so faint as to be scarcely noticed. Moreover, as soon as one motive is satisfied, another immediately "pops up to take its place," as though it had been lurking behind the scenes all the while, just waiting for its opportunity to take center stage. When this next motive is satisfied, then yet another moves in to replace it; and so on. The second observation was that these various motives do not succeed one another higgledy- piggledy. The order of their succession is dictated by the fact that some motives are simply more biologically urgent than others. It is not just that they might be more intense than others, for the intensity itself derives from the fact that they have a kind of built-in priority. In a word, human motives are hierarchically structured, and their arrangement within the hierarchy is defined by their respective levels of urgency/intensity/priority. As a convenient shorthand expression for these linked properties of urgency, intensity, and priority, Maslow coined the term "prepotent," along with its adjectival form "prepotency."
Here is a little experiment that you could perform to get an idea of what Maslow meant by "prepotent," though I strongly urge that it be tried only in the imagination, since the actual doing of it would prove hazardous to one's health. The first step in the experiment is to starve yourself for a period of two weeks. You may have thirty-two ounces of water per day, but otherwise, nothing. If you were actually to do this, here is what you would certainly find happening. First would come an increasing preoccupation with food, along with a fading into the background of such other concerns as might normally preoccupy you. As time wears on, food items that might formerly have disgusted will come to seem actually rather appetizing. You will begin to find allusions to food in perceptions that in other circumstances would be quite free of them. Let this part of the experiment run the full two weeks, and you will surely find that the lust for food has become the great driving force of your life and thought, eclipsing virtually everything else.
And now for the second part. I repeat that this should be done only in the imagination. At the end of the two weeks, as your body approaches collapse, and as your mind is filled with nothing but the lust for food, have an accomplice tie your hands behind your back and then cover your head with a plastic bag, securing it around your neck with a sturdy tape. In case you have any doubts about what will now occur, here it is. Within a few seconds your hunger motive will vanish as though it never existed at all, and in its place will be the overwhelming lust for breathable air. At that moment you will not be thinking of food, and you will certainly not be having high- minded thoughts of love or justice or beauty. The lust for breathable air will recruit to its own service every fiber of your being.
The denouement of the experiment comes in part three. Just as you are on the verge of losing consciousness, your accomplice removes the plastic bag and unties your hands. You gasp air for a few minutes, heave a few sighs of relief and then, back comes your lust for food, in all its former compelling intensity!
Obvious though the results of this thought-experiment might seem, they contain a very far-reaching implication. At the moment when you are seized with the lust for breathable air and your hunger motive vanishes completely out of sight, it is not that the hunger motive ceases to exist. It is simply that that the need for air is the more urgent for your immediate physical well- being, hence the more clamorous. The hunger motive is still alive and as strong as it was before the plastic bag, only now it is masked, eclipsed by another motive that is more prepotent. So it now waits invisibly behind the scenes for its next chance to come to center stage, which it does with full force once the more prepotent motive is satisfied. Not only is it as alive and strong as it was before; it is also as basic and built-in as it was before. The fact that it can be eclipsed by a more prepotent motive does not in any way entail that it is merely secondary and derivative. It is every bit as intrinsic as the motive for breathable air. The only difference is that, when both motives are calling for satisfaction at the same time, it is the latter that takes priority.
"Prepotence" and "Hierarchy": The Broader Implications
To state it in more general terms: When any two motives are calling for satisfaction at the same time, it is the more prepotent, the more biologically urgent and clamorous, that takes priority, and the less prepotent that gets pushed back behind the scenes. Conversely, the expression of any particular motive even one as patently basic and built-in as hunger presupposes that all other more prepotent needs are already fairly well satisfied, at least for the time being. The broader implication that Maslow saw in this hierarchical arrangement of motives went straight back to the question of higher human motives. The orthodox theory had dismissed all such "higher" motives as being merely secondary and derivative, on the grounds that they did not express themselves universally within the species.
With his vision of hierarchical arrangement, Maslow now had a psychologically tenable basis for explaining how a higher human motive, such as a desire for beauty, could be every bit as basic and built-in to human nature as the need for food, even though it is regularly and strongly expressed only in a relatively small portion of the species. Similarly for other items that one might want to list among the higher human motives: love, justice, kindness, and all the rest. The fact that these higher motives do not appear as universally as the more clamorous motives of hunger, thirst, and the like, does not mean that they are merely secondary and derivative; all it means is that they are less prepotent. Obviously, we would "never have the desire to compose music or create mathematical systems, or to adorn our homes," or to seek beauty in any other way, "if our stomachs were empty most of the time, or if we were continually dying of thirst, or if we were continually threatened by an always impending catastrophe . . .."12
But for any particular person, or for people in general, let there be freedom from hunger and thirst and threat of impending catastrophe let there be satisfaction of all the more prepotent motives and then you will see that the higher human motives do come to the fore to take their turn on stage. It is not that they have only now come into existence. They have been there all the while, rooted deeply in the very core of human nature. It is only that they have heretofore been eclipsed by the more biologically urgent motives, in quite the same way that hunger was eclipsed by the lust for breath in our imaginary experiment. Paraphrasing the well known words of Deuteronomy 8;3, Maslow observed:
It is quite true that man lives by bread alone when there is no bread. But what happens to man's desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? At once other (and higher) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still higher) needs emerge, and so on. This is what we mean when we say that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency.13At the first level of the need hierarchy are of course the various physiological needs of the organism: the needs for air, water, food, sleep in general such things as conduce to the immediate physical well- being of the organism, which nature induces us to tend to through a compelling assortment of immediate physical pleasures and pains. Once the needs of this category have become fairly well and stably satisfied,
there then emerges a new set of needs, which we may categorize roughly as the safety [and security] needs. All that has been said of the physiological needs is equally true, although in less degree, of these desires. The organism may equally well be dominated by them. They may serve as the almost exclusive organizers of behavior, recruiting all the capacities of the organism in their service, and we may then fairly describe the whole organism as a safety- seeking mechanism. ... A [person] in this state, if it is extreme enough and chronic enough, may be characterized as living almost for safety alone.14As long as the person is laboring within one or the other of these first two levels of motivation, other persons are seen chiefly as objects in the environment. Depending on the circumstances, they might stand as obstructions to the satisfactions of one's needs, or they might serve as the instruments of that satisfaction. Either way, they are of interest only insofar as they contribute to or interfere with the satisfaction of the physiological needs or the bolstering of one's sense of safety and security. Lurking back behind the scenes all the while, however, are deeply rooted needs for "love, affection, and belongingness," which have remained invisible only because they are eclipsed. Once the more insistent needs of the first two levels have become stably satisfied, the needs of this third level then emerge to take center stage, and one's fellow human beings come to be seen in an entirely new light. "Now the person will feel keenly, as never before, the absence of friends" or loved ones or family. The need to love and to be loved has come to the fore, and there is now a veritable hunger for affectionate relationships with other people, for a sense of connection and belonging. Maslow was certainly aware that the satisfaction of this third level of intrinsic need is far more easily said than done, especially in a society where love and affection "are generally looked upon with ambivalence and hedged about with many restrictions and inhibitions."15
Nonetheless, if only these needs can become stably satisfied, there will then emerge yet another level of intrinsic human need to take its place at center stage. Once again it is something that has been there all the while, deeply rooted in the core of human nature, but eclipsed by the more insistent urgings of the three preceding levels of need. Although Maslow had tried out a variety of labels for this fourth category of needs in his earlier writings, including "self- confidence," "strength of character," and "high ego- level," what he finally settled on was "self- esteem." At its bedrock level, it refers quite simply to the need to feel deeply and genuinely good about oneself. As we will see in a moment, this was an exceedingly critical juncture in Maslow's broader vision of human nature, because he saw the stable satisfaction of this need as the absolutely indispensable first step toward all those "wonderful possibilities" that he had been aiming at all along. The rationale of this point is quite simple: the satisfaction of the self- esteem need "leads to feelings of self- confidence, worth, strength, capability, and adequacy, of being useful and necessary in the world," whereas the thwarting of it "produces feelings of inferiority, of weakness, and of helplessness," which in turn give rise to either "basic discouragement" or else frantic efforts to over- compensate for one's sense of inferiority, weakness, and helplessness.16
Deficiency Motivation versus Growth Motivation
Although the four levels of basic needs mentioned up to this point are very diverse, ranging from the sheer gut- drives of hunger, thirst, etc., up through the more distinctively human needs for love and self- esteem, they all have one very important characteristic in common. It is that they are all needs for something; they are motivational dynamisms activated by deficiency. Hunger (true hunger, not just appetite) is a need for food. Thirst is a need for fluids. The motive for affection is aroused by a need for affection. The motive for self- esteem is activated by an insufficiency of self- esteem. All such deficiency motives have in common the fact that they color and distort one's perceptions of reality. They also distort our dealings with reality by causing us to make demands on it: Feed me! Love me! Respect me! The greater your need for food or safety or affection or self- esteem, the more you will see and treat the items of reality, including yourself and other people, in accordance with their respective abilities to facilitate or obstruct the satisfaction of that need. It is a truism of our age that the lusty heterosexual male will tend to see all females as sex- objects. Similarly, the person driven by the need for affection will tend to see other persons as affection- objects not in their full reality, but only in their capacity as potential givers or withholders of affection. The one driven by the need for self- esteem will tend to see and treat others as respect- objects, especially if he or she falls prey to the "dangers of basing self- esteem on the opinions of others rather than on real capacity, competence, and adequacy."17 Feed me! Love me! Respect me! Or, at least, do not stand in my way!
Suppose, now, that we were able to find a person for whom all the basic deficiency motives had become well and stably satisfied. What would be the characteristics of such a person? How would he or she perceive the realities of the world and interact with them? In brief, Maslow's answer was this. Laboring under the effects of deficiency motivation is like looking out upon the world through a clouded lens, and removing those effects is like replacing the clouded lens with a clear one. Thus, the person whose basic deficiency needs are all stably satisfied will see the world reality in all its aspects more clearly. Such a person will also no longer be making deficiency- motivated demands upon reality, no longer be driven by deficiency- motivated fears and suspicions, hence the interaction with oneself, other persons, and the world at- large will be more accepting, more capable of love and appreciation, and overall just plain more enjoyable. This is the center- most part of what Maslow described as self- actualization,18 and marks the point where there emerges in the life of the person an entirely different kind of motivation. (In later writings Maslow speaks of this new level of motivation as "metamotivation.") Up to this point, all motivation is deficiency motivation that expresses itself as a striving to acquire or attain whatever it is that defines the deficiency. But what comes now from this new level of motivation is not a striving but a kind of unfolding.
When I first encountered Maslow's concept of self- actualization, the image that came to mind was from an experiment I performed at about the age of ten, when I undertook to dissect a golf ball. I do not know how golf balls might be constructed nowadays, but in those days long ago what you found upon slitting open the tough outer layer was a very long, thin string of rubber that had been stretched and wrapped 'round and 'round into the form of a very hard, dense ball. So far, so good. But what I then discovered to my astonishment was that, once the confining outer layer had been breached, this tightly wrapped core began to unwrap and expand. Out and out it came, layer after layer, transforming itself into a skein about ten times as large as the original ball. The rubber band was not striving to attain a state of unwrappedness; it was simply unfolding according to its own nature, now that it was free to do so.
While I would not want to see this image carried too far, I do think it is apt up to a point. You can think of the layers of deficiency motives as a series of tough, confining outer shells that must be breached before the process of self- actualization can get well under way. And you can think of the process itself as a natural unfolding of the inner core of human nature, once it is free to express itself. Specifically, it is an unfolding of all those "wonderful possibilities" that Maslow believed all along lay somewhere deep within the core of human nature.
And now he had his explanation for why these potentialities, presumed to be present in all human beings, manifest themselves in only a few. It is because most of us spend most of our lives in thrall to one or another of the more prepotent levels of deficiency motivation, with the result that these higher and distinctively human possibilities remain locked away, masked, eclipsed, unable to express themselves. Here is a brief composite picture of what Maslow envisioned as the characteristics of persons in whom this unfolding process is well underway. The basic outlines are found in his original 1950 paper entitled "Self- Actualizing People: A Study of Psychological Health," which was subsequently expanded and republished as a chapter in his Motivation and Personality of 1954.19
In the original paper, Maslow described the overarching characteristic of the self- actualizing person as "more efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it." Once again, the basic fact is that the person is now no longer looking at the world through the clouded lens of deficiency motivation and is thus able to
distinguish far more easily than most the fresh, concrete, and idiographic [= individual] from the generic, abstract, and rubricized [= stereotyped]. The consequence is that they live more in the real world of nature than in the man- made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world. They are therefore far more apt to perceive what is there rather than their own wishes, hopes, fears, anxieties, their own theories and beliefs, or those of their cultural group.20The result of this clarity is likely to be noticed first in "an unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest in personality, and in general to judge people correctly and efficiently." Consider, for example, the guiles of flattery, which are such a common currency in everyday social interaction. You will be seduced and manipulated by them only in the degree that a deficiency of self- esteem leaves you in need of flattery. If you do not need it, you will see right through it. Upon closer examination, the same clarity of perception is found to extend to things in general: "In art and music, in things of the intellect, in scientific matters, in politics and public affairs," self- actualizing persons are "able to see concealed or confused realities more swiftly and more correctly." The basis of this greater swiftness and accuracy is that the self- actualizing person's contact with reality is simply more direct. And with this unfiltered, unmediated directness of their contact with reality comes also a vastly heightened ability
to appreciate again and again, freshly and naÔvely, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale those experiences may have become to others. Thus, for such a person, any sunset may be as beautiful as the first one, any flower may be of breath- taking loveliness, even after he has seen a million flowers. . . . For such people, even the casual workaday, moment- to- moment business of living can be thrilling, exciting, and ecstatic.21
Because they are no longer slaves to the hopes and fears of deficiency motivation, self- actualizing persons are not threatened or frightened by the unknown, but on the contrary "accept it, are comfortable with it, and often are even more attracted by it than by the known." Hence, in this respect as in many others they can live their lives more efficiently, since "they do not have to spend any time laying the ghost, whistling past the cemetery, or otherwise protecting themselves against imagined dangers."22 Another respect in which self- actualizing persons live their lives more efficiently is that they tend to be problem- centered rather than ego- centered. When they encounter something that needs to be solved or fixed, they do not work at it for the sake of scoring points, but simply for the sake of getting it done. They do not need to score the points, hence can approach the task with greater clarity and focus.23 They are able to see clearly at the outset whether the "problem" really is a problem or merely a pseudo- problem. If it is genuine, they are able to see it and its possible solutions as they are, rather than as the demands of deficiency motivation might prefer them to be. And in attacking the task they do not put their egos on the line, hence do not trip over them. More generally, not needing to put their egos on the line at every turn produces in self- actualizing persons a healthy "quality of detachment" that allows them "to remain above the battle, . . . unruffled, undisturbed by that which produces turmoil in others."24
Feed me! Love me! Respect me! Having achieved stable satisfaction of the various deficiency motives, self- actualizing persons are no longer making demands of this sort upon reality, hence are able to accept themselves, others, and nature at large in an extraordinary degree. Again, it is chiefly because they see reality more clearly: "Their eyes see what is before them without being strained through spectacles of various sorts to distort or shape or color the reality." In particular, they show a healthy acceptance of their own natures, and thus tend to be "good and lusty animals, hearty in their appetites and enjoying themselves mightily without regret or shame or apology." They have a good appetite for food, sleep well,
enjoy their sexual lives without unnecessary inhibition, and so on for all the relatively physiological impulses. They are able to accept themselves not only at these low levels, but at all [other] levels as well; e.g., love, safety, belongingness, honor, self- respect. All of these are accepted without question as worthwhile, simply because these people are inclined to accept the work of nature rather than to argue with her for not having constructed things to a different pattern.By the same token, self- actualizing persons are relatively free of defensiveness and posturing: "Cant, guile, hypocrisy, front, face, playing a game, trying to impress in conventional ways; these are all absent in themselves to an unusual degree." This is not to say that self- actualizing persons experience an absolute lack of
guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety, defensiveness; it is [only] a lack of unnecessary (because unrealistic) guilt, etc. . . . What [they] do feel guilty about (or ashamed, anxious, sad, or defensive) are (1) improvable shortcomings, e.g., laziness, thoughtlessness, loss of temper, hurting others; (2) stubborn remnants of [deficiency motivation], e.g., prejudice, jealousy, envy; (3) habits, which, though relatively independent of [basic] character structure, may yet be very strong; or (4) shortcomings of the species or of the culture or of the group with which they have identified. The general formula is that [self- actualizing] people will feel bad about discrepancies between what is and what might very well be or what ought to be.25If yours is one of those minds quick to spot inconsistencies, you will have taken particular note of the concluding phrase in the above passage "what ought to be" which at first glance will surely seem at variance with the image of a person who accepts and affirms reality as it is rather than as one might wish it to be. This phrase was not just a slip of Maslow's pen, but rather the first expression of his notion that self- actualizing persons, as an aspect of their general tendency to see reality more clearly, also see more clearly what is of value and what is not in brief, "what ought to be" and what ought not. We will examine this matter more fully a bit later, but first we must finish drawing the overall picture.
Although the self- actualizing person is something really quite out of the ordinary, he or she can nonetheless give the impression of being entirely conventional. This is for the simple reason that the self- actualizing person does not need to prove anything by being deliberately eccentric or unconventional. However, any conventionality that such a person might exhibit "is a cloak that rests very lightly upon [the] shoulders and is easily cast aside" should the occasion call for it. Beneath the cloak, to the deeper levels of thought and feeling, the strictures of convention simply do not penetrate. And as it is thoughts and feelings that guide behavior, an undercurrent of deeply rooted freedom and spontaneity shows through even when the self- actualizing person seems most conventional, in behavior that is marked through- and- through by "simplicity and naturalness, and by lack of artificiality or straining for effect."26
This deeply rooted freedom is also reflected in what Maslow variously describes as "autonomy," "independence of culture and environment," and "resistance to enc ulturation." Obviously, if you are severely in need of food you will tend to dan ce to whatever tune it is that will get you your next meal; whereas, if you are well fed and have reliable access to food, the need for food will have no significant control over you. The same is true for the other levels of deficiency motivation. If you do not need the approval of others, then your thoughts and actions will not be shaped to conform to the requirements for winning approval, nor will they be constrained by the fear of failing to gain approval. In that degree, you will be "ruled by the laws of [your] own character rather than by the rules of society." Your thoughts, feelings, and behavior will stem from deep within, relatively immune to the complex and often inconsistent system of rewards and punishments, incentives and disincentives, positive and negative reinforcements, by which any society tends to shape deficiency- motivated individuals to the common mold.27 It is the same inner freedom and spontaneity that allows the self- actualizing person to show a kind of thorough- going creativeness. This is not the "special- talent creativeness of the Mozart type," which appears to have little relationship to the rest of personality, nor is it the kind of would- be creativeness that aims at novelty merely for novelty's sake. It is more along the lines of a natural, unself- conscious creative flair, something akin to "the naive and universal creativeness of unspoiled children," which reaches out and "touches whatever activity the person is engaged in." Maslow was convinced that this kind of creativeness is "a fundamental characteristic of common human nature[,] a potentiality given to all human beings at birth," found fairly universally among children, but then tending to get buried under the increasing weight of post- childhood deficiency motivation. Were it not for the "choking- off forces" of deficiency motivation, which incline the person to be shaped to the prevailing cultural mold, "we might expect that every human being would show this special type of creativeness."28
Several of the characteristics that Maslow listed for self- actualizing persons have to do with their relationships with other human beings and with humankind at large. Once again, the key concept is that such persons have already achieved stable satisfaction of the deficiency needs. So, while they can enjoy and appreciate other persons, they do not need them in the conventional sense of the term. They do not need the constant stroking, reassurance, and approval of other persons, nor do they need the constant company of other persons in order to escape the terrors of solitude. Indeed, "they positively like solitude and privacy to a definitely greater degree than the average person."29 At the same time, however, their relationships with other persons tend to be
deeper and more profound [than is usually the case among] adults (although not necessarily deeper than those of children). They are capable of more fusion, greater love, more perfect identification, more obliteration of the ego boundaries than other people would consider possible.Relationships of such depth of course require a great deal of time "devotion is not a matter of a moment" so they are relatively few in number. Although the self- actualizing person tends not to spend much time or energy cultivating a wider circle of more superficial acquaintances, it is nonetheless the case that his or her "exclusiveness of devotion can and does exist side by side with a widespreading . . . benevolence, affection, and friendliness" toward people in general, occasioned by a deep sense of compassion for the whole of humankind.30
|Continued in Part 2.|
1 "The Role of Dominance in the Social and Sexual Behavior of Infra-human Primates" (four parts). Journal of Genetic Psychology, 1936. 48: 261277, 278309, 310338; 49: 161198.
2 Statement by Harry F. Harlow, cited in R Lowry (ed.), Dominance, Self-Esteem, Self-Actualization: Germinal Papers of A.H. Maslow, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1973, p. 1.
3 Statement by Harry F. Harlow, ibid., p. 47.
4 A.H. Maslow, in an undergraduate philosophy paper dated October 23, 1928. Cited in R Lowry, A.H. Maslow: An Intellectual Portrait, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1973, p. 15.
5 A.H. Maslow, fragment of an unfinished book, circa 1970. Cited in R Lowry, A.H. Maslow: An Intellectual Portrait, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1973, p. 77.
6 Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton, 1962, p. 67.
7 A.H. Maslow, unpublished note dated June 1938. Cited in Richard Lowry, A.H. Maslow: An Intellectual Portrait, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1973, p. 77.
8 Freud, op. cit., pp. 5859.
9 Frank Manuel, Eulogy, in Abraham H. Maslow: A Memorial Volume, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1972, p. 7.
10 A.H. Maslow, "A Preface to Motivation Theory." Psychosomatic Medicine, 1943, 5, 8592; "A Theory of Human Motivation." Psychological Review, 1943, 50, 370396.
11 A.H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, New York: Harper & Bros., 1954 (second edition, 1970; third edition [posthumous], 1987).
12 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, p. 69.
13 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, p. 83.
14 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 8485.
15 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 8990.
16 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 9091.
17 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, p. 91.
18 Maslow was careful to acknowledge that the term "self-actualization" had first appeared in the work of the psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein (The Organism, New York: American Book Co., 1939). Goldstein had used the term to describe the often remarkable ways in which brain-injured patients adapt to and compensate for their injuries.
19 A.H. Maslow, "Self-Actualizing People: A Study of Psychological Health," in Personality Symposia: Symposium #1. New York: Grune & Stratton, 1950, pp. 1134. Republished with modifications as Chapter 12 in A.H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, New York: Harper & Bros., 1954. In the preface to Motivation and Personality, Maslow noted that the main part of the original paper had actually been written about 1943, "but it was seven years before I summoned up enough courage to print it."
20 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, p. 205.
21 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 214215.
22 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 203206.
23 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 210212.
24 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 212213.
25 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 206208.
26 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 208210.
27 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 213214, 225228.
28 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 223224.
29 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, p. 212.