The checkered game of [self] actualization


“[M]an lives by bread alone — when there is no bread.” (Abraham Maslow)

Self-actualization is the highest need in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs it’s the one that the vast majority of us don’t get done. So what is it actually? First, the “self” part of the title seems unnecessary, like who else is going to do it for you? Seems to me, you are [self] actualized when your inner sociopath and your inner bodhisattva reach a truce; when that old saw “God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other…” becomes true. Minus the god part, of course.

At the bottom of the hierarchy there are true needs; without air, water, food and shelter we die. So when we sense a decline in these, all the other “needs” take a back seat.  Maslow says when we don’t get these  necessities met we have a deficit at the physiological level, whereas sensing the possibility of not keeping them is a deficit at the safety level.

Originally (1943, 1954) Maslow said there were two levels below self-actualization and above physiological and safety. They are love and esteem. They are really–OK in my opinion again–a continuum of relationships with others. Love is one-on-one and among equals and esteem is one to the many and among un-equals. Both come and go in a life; We are promoted then laid off, we get married then divorced, and there are constant births and deaths around us, near and far.

Then in 1970, Maslow added two more needs, knowledge and beauty. I think the second two are not higher or lower on a scale, but are alternate paths from safety to [self] actualized. They were added to allow a broader range of folks the title of “actualized.” People unlike the publicly successful celebrities and CEOs; people like martyred saints, ignored scientists and crazy artists; people who listen to themselves rather than the others; people who have been denied–or choose to ignore–the mixed blessings of love and esteem.

Life per Maslow, for CEO or saint alike, is almost like the old (1955) board game “Careers” where each player could choose their “success formula” from varying amounts of three choices; happiness, money and fame to win the game. But the hierarchy of needs separates the continuum of choices differently; there money and fame are bound together in esteem, happiness is confused with love and the search for knowledge and/or beauty are…