When I was 16 in my junior year of high school, I found myself without a challenge in high school. I had completed all of my high school’s advanced science & math classes in addition to all of my graduation requirements; however the school system would not graduate me due to my age (or so they said, but I suspect it was 1.5 years of federal monies they would not receive). So my mother enrolled me in 2 college classes at the local community college, one being General Psychology. I remember at the time that I had not wanted to take the Gen Psych class, but mom insisted…& mom always got her way…life was just “simpler” that way.
Now jump forward 32 years to the present. I am changing careers from Corrections to Marriage & Family Counseling. To garner admission to a graduate program in counseling, I have to take some undergraduate psychology classes. I check with the local community college & they have the classes that I need. However, they feel that 32 years since I last took Gen Psych is too long ago for their Gen Psych prerequisite for the classes I need…in other words, here we go again taking Gen Psych. I was not too enthused.
One Step Forward:
I had not realized how much my overactive 16-year old mind had taken in until I retook the class. I found that I had unknowingly been using much of the information for the past 32 years! About all I consciously remembered from 32 years ago was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Development (eesh!). While I expected the psychology field to have changed over 32 years, I was pleasantly surprised at many of the developments in the cognitive & behavioral fields as well as numerous new therapies in common usage. There were now many specialties within psychology; sports psychology, industrial psychology, organizational psychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, child psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, forensic psychology, community psychology…The emphasis now was to holistically treat the whole person rather than just the biology. I was also very pleasantly surprised that much of Freud’s original sexually laden thought had been discredited although he still garners much popularity.
I was also pleased to see that Maslow had revised his Hierarchy of Needs. Basically Maslow taught that once needs are met at a lower level then the individual will strive to meet needs at the next level. For example, once one has food & shelter (immediate physiological needs) then one will be motivated by needs at the next higher level, such as safety/self-protection. Once those needs are met, then the needs of the next level will be one’s motivation, creativity, self-fulfillment & etc. When I was 16 the 5-tier chart was what I had been taught & it still appeared in my new textbook 32 years later.
I remembered thinking at 16 that these needs were rather limited in scope. I also questioned how morality could be classified as not an important motivator until the self-actualization stage, the highest stage in the theory. After all, was not morality important in how one lived their life & throughout their whole life? One was to try to live their life in a moral fashion; the ends did not justify the means. In all truth I did not understand how morality could be classified as a motivator to begin with unless the definition of morality was either ignored or vastly changed. And furthermore, what about the meaning to one’s life? What about spirituality? What about God?
At 16 these questions got me laughed at in class by the adults; I was branded as obviously too young to understand such developed concepts & obviously brainwashed by old-fashioned intolerant religion. In answer to these questions it was explained to me that humans did nothing according to free-will; that was but an illusion. We are nothing but biological animals totally controlled by chemical reactions in an organ called the brain. We were nothing more than the sum of our parts. There is no such thing as a soul. There is no meaning to life. I remembered asking my instructor if that meant that I was no different than my pets? To her “yes,” she got a typical precocious 16-year old answer—“Now, that’s stupid!”
Maslow had expanded his original pyramid although the 5-tier chart was still pictured in the textbook which I thought curious given the text verbage. The text explained that he had added a 6th tier called Self-transcendence in which the individual begins to look for a higher purpose in life or to help others reach their full potential. The text failed to present that he also added 2 more tiers under Self-actualization: Cognitive & Asethetic needs. I was impressed that such tiers had appeared as apparently the scientists were beginning to realize that people really are more than just mere animals. We needed meaning to our lives & to transcend ourselves. I wondered if science would soon find a “need” for religion or spirituality?
Two Steps Backward:
I soon found that science on the contrary had taken two steps backward. Evolutionary psychologists have apparently come to the forefront of the field. They had taken Maslow’s hierarchy & revised it, supposedly according to new scientific findings although those studies & findings were curiously absent from our text. To be fair part of their revision was explained in that the new breed of psychologists were attempting to adapt Maslow’s original to be more cross-cultural, to account for cultures that are more group-oriented rather than the individual-oriented Western industrialized world. Also they doubted the linear hierarchy of Maslow’s original design to which I agree with their dissent. I always felt that Maslow’s original was limited in scope, but the new pyramid is by no means an improvement. Frankly, I think they really missed the mark.
What a revision! It is truly two steps (or more!) backwards in understanding of what motivates humans & what it means to be human. It would be laughable if it were not so anemic. Gone are Cognitive & Aesthetic needs, Self-actualization & Self-transcendence. Apparently science has disproven the human need for knowledge, meaning or self-awareness along with the human appreciation for beauty & balance. No need for personal growth or self-fulfillment. No need to help your fellow man. No need to go beyond oneself. The revised pyramid above is not the one presented in my modern text which lumped Mate acquisition, Mate retention & Parenting under a generic tier heading of Mating & Parenting. Also gone is the previous tier labeled Love which was defined by family, friends, affiliation, relationships, belonging & etc. In its place is a very neutral & generic Affiliation. All that remains to be removed are the esteem/status needs. Once again humans are just like the animals; content to eat, sleep & reproduce.
Congratulations, human, you are once again no different than my cat! All I can say is, despite the best efforts of my priest, I am still precocious & that’s still stupid! Here, Kitty…Kitty…Kitty!