Lack of satisfiers of needs - Maslow

      Abraham Maslow argues that so many of us fail to realize our full human potential, not because our needs are necessarily in conflict or because conflict is artificially introduced, but because we fail to shift gears up the hierarchy of needs. Most of the people on our planet must spend most of their time seeking satisfaction of their survival needs and have little 'spare time' for the luxury of seeking satisfaction for their psychological needs.

      In our affluent industrial society, most of us have little direct experience of a subjective map in which biological needs are prepotent. We get an occasional glimpse of such a state when we are hungry and notice that we are highly sensitized to stimuli related to food. A psychologist once flashed nonsense syllables on a screen before lunch during a convention and got significantly more food-related responses than when he performed the same experiment after lunch. Volunteers in an experiment on the effect of semi-starvation reported that their consciousness became dominated by food. They talked about food, dreamed about food, replaced the pin-ups in their lockers with photographs of food, and exchanged recipes rather than jokes with the other volunteers. Audrey Richards, an anthropologist, reports than food dominates not only the conscious life but the unconscious life of the members of an African tribe for whom food is very scarce. We are preoccupied not by sex, as Freud argued, but by whatever happens to be scarce - for example, sex in nineteenth-century Victorian Austria. The famished man does indeed live by bread alone.

      Many of us in our affluent industrial society have more direct experience of a subjective map in which sociological needs are prepotent. Few of us get stuck at the level of biological needs, but many of us get stuck at the level of sociological needs. Other people - the satisfiers of sociological needs - are, as I said above, in plentiful supply. Perhaps so many of us get stuck in this second gear of sociological needs because of some distortions in social relationships within industrial societies - the tendency to seek prestige rather than self-esteem (see section 2(c) above), to establish contractual rather than intimate relationships (see section 2(e) above), and so on.

      Maslow suggests that any benefit gained from visiting a therapist may be due to the fact that he or she satisfies sociological needs and thus permits the client to move up the hierarchy of needs. In our impersonal society, we need professional listeners to perform a function which is served by intimates in a traditional society. Many of us fail to satisfy our sociological needs and thus to move up the hierarchy to psychological needs and thus, thereby, to realize the full human potential [9].

      Maslow suggests further that the need to know may be overcome by the fear of knowing. The person is torn between the safety of the survival needs (biological and sociological) and the growth of the psychological needs. This conflict can be vividly illustrated by the image of a child clinging to a mother's apron strings in a strange environment, venturing out for longer and longer forays further and further into that environment, and dashing back to base after each foray when the environment gets too threatening. This conflict between the contentment of safety and the excitement of growth continues, in less blatant forms, throughout our entire lives. Many of us fail to venture far from our mother's skirts (or whatever symbolic equivalent we have established - tenured position, corner bar, suburban castle, etc.), whereas some of us do venture far - Neil Armstrong got all the way to the moon without his mother.

      This emphasis on deficiency motivation at the expense of growth motivation - or, in Jerome Bruner's terms, on defending behavior at the expense of coping behavior - often results from a threatening environment. Dramatic changes in a person's competence when shifted to a non-threatening environment may be attributable to a switch from deficiency to growth motivation or, alternatively, from defending to coping behavior.

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