Survival and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, by J.S.I.

Back in the 1940s, Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, asked himself the question “Just what is it that people really need…….?”  After considerable research he came up with an analysis called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  It is usually graphically represented as a triangle consisting of five layers, each corresponding to a category of needs, the lowest layer being the most basic and the topmost – the apex – being the most rarified.

The layers, in order from bottom to top are as follows:

  1. Physiological (breathing, food, water, sleep, sex, homeostasis, excretion)
  2. Safety (security of body, of employment, of resources, of morality, of the family, of health, of property)
  3. Love/Belonging (friendship, family, community, sexual intimacy)
  4. Esteem (self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others)
  5. Self Actualization (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts)

He furthermore posited that one couldn’t achieve the next higher order of need without first satisfying the one below and, conversely, that if we lose our lower order needs, we lose interest in the remaining higher order needs.  I disagree somewhat with this statement of dependencies, but more on that later.

What strikes me about the vast majority of writings and methodologies devoted to survival is their tunnel vision focus on the very bottom of the pyramid of needs, and at best a nod in passing, hardly more than an afterthought, to the apex needs.  Needless to say, there are exceptions to this (some mighty good ones at that), but if you look at the public’s view, let alone that of the press, survivalists are regarded as armed, likely dangerous zealots of dubious political and social views whose focus is upon stockpiling food, water and ammo for the Armageddon, and woe to anyone who might interfere with their physical or philosophical manifesto.

Also striking to me is that aboriginal groups consistently show a far greater efficacy through all five levels than today’s typical urban/suburban dweller, who might have a week’s worth of food in the fridge and an intense rage and frustration when it comes to any matters concerning love, esteem and self actualization.  As a note in passing, this has led to a steadily increasing stream of apocalyptic/aboriginal fantasy pieces in the public domain which, though they might have a great bottom line for the publisher, computer game maker or at the box office, have further twisted and confused the real raison d’etre of a survival orientation.

Back to Mr. Maslow’s hierarchy.  Quite a while back, I determined to template my personal “List of Lists” to encompass all five levels of the hierarchy.  On my first attempt at this, I was astonished and thoroughly disheartened at the abject poverty of my proposed manner of surviving and living, particularly at the apex levels.  Subsequently, my “list of lists” has become far richer with every addition of what I call Gear for the Soul.  It weighs nothing and costs nothing, but has more value than any amount of bullion – or “food, water, ammo” – that I can comprehend.

 A final note re my respectful disagreement with Mr. Maslow:  I regard the five layers not as a go-no-go hierarchy, but as interdependent.  The health and vitality of any one depends upon the health and vitality of the others; all exist simultaneously, each to their varying degree.  Should you try this exercise for yourself, remember that it is not a test; there is no such thing as a “perfect” score. Variation between individuals in the balance between the layers should not be construed as a good or bad thing, but as a hallmark of the unique qualities each of us bring to our own lives and the lives of others.