More on Maslow

Two letters from our September edition.

Thanks for the interesting piece by Alex Fradera on William Compton’s Journal of Humanistic Psychology review of Abraham Maslow’s Self-Actualization/Hierarchy of Needs concepts in the News section (August 2018). It was particularly refreshing to see criticisms of Maslow given due consideration but, on the whole, a positive evaluation of this pioneer’s groundbreaking work. A couple of additional thoughts and considerations.

First, Maslow ended up with two approaches to self-actualisation. The first (in 1943) was essentially a regurgitation of a Kurt Goldstein concept, itself derived from Carl Gustav Jung’s ‘self-realisation’. This is the ‘Be all you can be’ concept which is used so powerfully in sports coaching and which appears in most text books. However, in 1956, Maslow was much more specific about what self-actualisation is, giving it 14 characteristics. Effectively, Maslow defined a meta-level of thinking that was to be closely paralleled by Clare W. Graves’s (1970) ‘GT’ level of existence and Jane Loevinger’s (1976) ‘Autonomous’ stage of ego development.

This, then, left us with two understandings of self-actualisation – which has caused much confusion. I have attempted to reconcile these two concepts in my own online article ‘Self-Actualisation/YELLOW’.

Second, Maslow’s hierarchy and the concept of self-actualisation are often portrayed as culturally biased towards Western individualistic values and inappropriate to non-Western collectivist values. In fact, it is under-appreciated and barely reported on that Maslow’s 1956 ‘redefinition’ of self-actualisation was heavily influenced by his 1938 sojourn with the Blackfoot people and his experiences of their collectivist culture.

Earlier this year I was approached by Joseph Trimble of Western Washington University (currently working with Steve Reicher at Aberdeen) to acknowledge First Nation influences on Maslow (and others). Trimble put me on to First Nation psychologists Ryan Heavy Head and Sidney Stone Brown, both alumni of Canada’s University of Lethbridge, who were able to elaborate.

Maslow wrote two pieces on the Blackfoot communities – one with John Honigmann – but neither was published at the time. They appear as appendices in Stone Brown’s Transformation Beyond Greed (2014). Stone Brown attributes their non-publication to Maslow fearing a backlash due to white racial prejudice and discrimination which regarded the Blackfoot as ‘savages’.

Maslow perceived what he came to use Goldstein’s term ‘self-actualisation’ term for in many of the Blackfoot he encountered, writing ‘about 70–80% of the Blackfoot are more secure than the most secure 5% of our population’. He attributed this security and the self-actualisation developed from it to the Blackfoot communal life and, in particular, their child-rearing practices.

Keith E. Rice
Apperley Bridge, Bradford

Graves, C.W. (1970). Levels of existence: An open system theory of values. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 10(2), 131–155.
Loevinger, J. (1976). Ego development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The interesting and informative article on Maslow in The Psychologist (August 2018) is about his first version of the Hierarchy of Needs, which he knew was incomplete. Just before his death he added another level above Self-Actualization, namely Intrinsic Values. This extra level deals with motives such as ethics, appreciation of beauty, sense of justice, etc. while Self-Actualization is about achieving one’s maximum potential.

I wrote about this in The Psychologist December 2014 issue, and in detail in Part 1 of The Walrus’s Handbook: Understanding Ourselves.

Hazel Skelsey Guest

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