29 March 2014

Maslows Hierarchy - Is it for all ?

Human needs are the force behind all development. The wheel was developed for easier travel, fire was discovered for gaining warmth and light bulb was invented to show the way in the dark. Human needs have always been the driving force behind any action taken by people, so that they can fulfill their needs. This is where the great psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with the Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy of human requirements classifies the needs of human beings into 5 categories namely physiological, safety, love/ belonging, esteem and self actualization at the apex. But can human needs be actually ordered into an ascending pyramid?
Consider 2 contrasting scenarios.

Visualize a 60 year old farmer, who has lived the better part of his life in a small remote village with the bare minimum facilities. Since generations, his family has been living in debt having no money or assets, and living in inhuman conditions. Throughout his entire life, he has had no access to food, drinking water, proper sanitation, shelter etc. His family, be it his parents, wife or children, have been a burden on his shoulders, and mere survival has been the struggle of his life. For the poor, family has no meaning. A case of people selling their children for a piece of bread happens daily. People killing their family members over petty sums of money happen by the minute. Where do safety, esteem and self actualization come into the picture? And this is the story of more than half of the human population on the globe.
Similarly, imagine an 18 year boy, whose ancestors have been the top business professionals in their respective field. Since his birth, he has had the best of facilities, education and a peaceful life with a lavish life style. He never had to struggle for any requirement of his, and all his wishes and urges were fulfilled with the blink of an eye. Does he even bother about the basic needs? Does he even care about saving a drop of water or a bite of food he wastes, which might be gold for a poor soul? Then where does the hierarchy come into the picture. He has his different set of needs, different set of problems which are beyond the pyramid.
Maslow’s hierarchy is best applicable to describe the condition of a business professional who starts his life as a student, progresses to being a competitive professional and post- retirement seeks a meaning to his life. But typecasting the needs of the entire human race is not justified. The sample that Maslow took for his study was the healthiest 1% of the college student population and applied it to the entire human race which isn’t acceptable by any angle.
Human needs cannot be ranked into an order. This is simply because many factors like society, poverty, culture etc affect the condition of a person’s requirement. Also, it neglects the emotional, familial and evolutionary implications of sex within the community. Thus, stereotyping the human needs on the basis of a sample of well to do people is not justified. The problems, difficulties and complexity which people across the globe cannot be generalized in terms of a hierarchical pyramid. Therefore, Maslow’s Hierarchy even though the most sought after, is not for all, after-all.
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