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What Does Maslow Say?

Abraham Maslow singled out some persons he knew personally, added some more public and historical figures og good repute, and tried to find a sort of elite students to study - and found at least one among three thousands, he thought. He writes, "I had to conclude that self-actualization of the sort I had found in my older subjects perhaps was not possible in our society for young, developing people." He therefore decided, with E. Raskin and D. Freedman, to search for quite healthy college students and arbitrarily decided to choose the healthiest 1 percent of them. This went on for over a two years.

Among figures created by novelists or dramatists, none were found that were usable (!)

The chosen students were lacking in neurosis, psychopathic personality, psychosis, or strong tendencies in these directions. And "Possibly psychosomatic illness called forth closer scrutiny and screening."

This means they set up themselves as judges of others, without having any widely agreed-on criteria. They did not say with Kahlil Gibran, that when a thread in a loom breaks, the fault may not lie in the thread alone. It could be the loom is badly woven in some way or ways. Or there could be something wrong with both the thread and the loom. Or maybe with none, in the case of external causes. Too much pressure causes stress in humans, and stress makes vast numbers ill and causes premature death too. Stress is estimatedly involved in about half of all common diseases. That is a conservative estimate. (Hi 505).

When the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also. [The Prophet, "On Crime and Punishment"]

Neurotic symptoms may in part be a being's responses to a society ruled by scoundrels. In simple words, there is a range (continuum) from "You're crazy; but it's not your fault; it's society's fault" and to "You're crazy, none others are to blame."

Be that as it may, it is shortsighted to search for all healthy eunuchs in a harem. Study the over-riding conditions of university students too, and the large, unhealthy society, and see what you come up with. That could offer better help. I think Dr Philip Zimbardo has done some useful things in that alley, when studying cults in America and noting that the large society is not good enough for humans - not to speak of animals. He finds the following valid for cult groups:

What is common are the recruiting promises, influence agendas and group's coercive influence power that compromise the personal exercise of free will and critical thinking. . . .

Cults represent each society's "default values," filling in its missing functions. The cult epidemic is diagnostic of where and how society is failing its citizens.. . .

Cult methods of recruiting, indoctrinating and influencing their members are not exotic forms of mind control, but only more intensely applied mundane tactics of social influence practiced daily by all compliance professionals and societal agents of influence. [1]

A good society handles youngsters better than cults.

The positive student criteria Maslow and Co. were after in the American society, at a time when perhaps fewer students got shy [2] and/or impoverished, got the umbrella label "self-actualization (SA)" but Maslow and others had difficulties in describing it accurately. Beware.

They chose some criteria and looked for them in people. It is not a good way to go, according to Tao Te Ching.

From Chapter 15
The best rulers of old had fine natures, mysterious, too deep, they couldn't be understood.
And because such men couldn't be fully grasped at once, they appeared to be
Cautious, like wading a stream in winter;
At a loss, like one fearing and having to deal with danger on every side;
Reserved, like one who pays a visit;
Pliant and yielding, as ice beginning to melt;
Genuine, like a piece of raw wood;
Open-minded like a valley;
And blending freely like a troubled, muddy stream of water.

From Chapter 17
Of the best the people hardly ever know they exist;
The next best they flock to and praise.
The next they shrink from;
The next get reviled.

The wise man . . . when his task is finished, a work well done, everyone says,
"It happened by itself" or "We did it."

Here we get a different understanding of the worthy ones than Maslow talks of. The idea that they are too deep to understand, and therefore described arbitrarily, is bonus knowledge.

It is not the title, age, rank and measured IQ of a person that determines how good he is at thinking, but many fall under such sways, thinks Fred Kerlinger. KERLINGER. Maslow's understanding was that is full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, and the like are good, are characteristics. He disregards common wisdom, that "It is a fool who cannot hide his wisdom. (Proverb)" And he disregards Taoist teachings.

What may be most lacking in Maslow's approach is sense - sense that balance between in and out is worth going for, for without it, thriving is hardly had. In other words, the more branches and leaves and fruit a tree has, the better its rooting and soil and other conditions have to be. If not, exploitation follows, that that is a world-wide problem too.

Another problem is regrettably seen in the need to protect oneself from bad neighbours and others. Only fools think all others are friends, asserts the Norse teaching-poem Havamal. A balance between open friendliness and self-protection may be hard to find, but is needed among terrorist attacks.

With these stark objections well in mind, let us revert to Maslow's ideas of what are good people again. He defined them first, and then got his definitions "confirmed" by people who matched his criteria. There is much he did not do. He approached a "self-fulfilling prophesy". A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it is already true.

People that Maslow looked at, seemed to him to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they wee capable of doing, they had developed or were developing to the full stature (!) of which they are capable. Correction: "Developing to what Maslow thought was their full stature." As if he knew it.

Now, Maslow's chosen ones were of the kinds that felt "safe and unanxious, accepted, loved and loving, respect-worthy and respected", but those features - self-esteem and security - might be just prerequisites of self-actualization. Abraham Lincoln in his last years was one of the "fairy sure historical figures" chosen. We know what happened to him, despite an out-of-place feeling of being "safe and unanxious" and so on. A good bodyguard could have saved his life. Thomas Jefferson, slave-owner, was another historical figure Maslow found to be of quality. All slaves might disagree, in principle.

There were also "seven fairly sure and two highly probable contemporaries" of Maslow. They had been interviewed.

It shows up that Maslow looked up to and included Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, William James, Albert Schweitzer, Aldous Huxley, and Benedict de Spinoza.

Albert Einstein - was he bullet-proof? The genius did not treat his first wife kindly, his second marriage was with a cousin of his, and see what Pablo Picasso thought of his fruits: "The genius of Einstein leads to Hiroshima." Afterwards, generations have lived in fear. "By their fruits you shall know them" - too. The atomic bomb was not only Einstein's destructive work, though. Many, like Robert Oppenheimer, cooperated in making it and making the planet a worse place to live in. They wanted to get rid of something bad by something worse, much worse. One should question the approach before the planet becomes a wasteland.

It is a sad thing, people that are admired and looked up to, like presidents, may not be of the best sort anyway. In some cases it shows up later. Just keep some cool reserve. We do not want to subtract from their good sides; we just question Maslow's criteria and "role models" here and there.

Characteristics of self-actualizing people "for further clinical and experimental study", as Maslow writes, are included under these loose and wide headings - in his own words:

  1. perception of reality
  2. acceptance
  3. spontaneity
  4. problem centering
  5. solitude
  6. autonomy
  7. fresh appreciation
  8. peak experiences
  9. human kinship
  10. humility and respect
  11. interpersonal relationships
  12. ethics
  13. means and ends
  14. humor
  15. creativity
  16. resistance to enculturation
  17. imperfections
  18. values
  19. resolution of dichotomies.

There are fallacies involved. Let us have a look at the first item on Maslow's list.

1. Perception of Reality

You may wonder how pigs differ from little boys and girls - tots - in their perception of reality. Are they to be handled like little tots, too? They have much in common with human beings too.

In the wake of Maslow, should we too somewhat arbitrarily conclude that the best pigs have an almost uncanny ability to detect truffles hidden underground, to judge such things correctly and efficiently? You may say they are capable of judging and loving other pigs very well too, and that they judge many such things better if they are not scared out of their minds? There is much to consider in ranking pigs too.

As for human beings, Maslow was of the opinion that the best he found, had "An unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest in personality, and in general to judge people correctly and efficiently." For example, the more secure (the more healthy) students judge their professors more accurately than the less secure students.

Maslow: "It is definitely possible that maladjustment or even extreme neurosis would disturb perception enough to affect acuity of perception of light or touch or odour.

Selfactualisers distinguish better than most people, says Maslow. Their predictions of the future seemed to be more often correct, and less based on wish, desire, anxiety, fear, or on generalised, character-determined optimism or pessimism . . . this had better be called perception (not taste) of reality, and not a set of opinions.

Selfactualizing people distinguish far more easily than most the fresh, concrete, and idiographic from the generic, abstract, and categorised. The consequence is that they live more in the real world of nature than in the human-made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world. They are therefore far more apt to perceive what is there rather than their own wishes, hopes, fears, anxieties, their own theories and beliefs, or those of their cultural group.

"Our healthy subjects are generally unthreatened and unfrightened by the unknown, being therein quite different from average people. They accept it, are comfortable with it, and, often are even more attracted by it than by the known. They not only tolerate the ambiguous and unstructured; they like it.

These people, it is true, are the intellectuals . . . without defects, and discovering . . . they do not organize, dichotomize, or categorise prematurely. They do not try for truths out of needs for certainty, safety, definiteness, and order, such as we see in brain-injured patients or in compulsive-obsessive neurotics. When the situation calls for it, they can be comfortably disorderly, sloppy, anarchic, chaotic, vague, doubtful, uncertain, indefinite, approximate, inexact, or inaccurate (all, at certain moments in science, art, or life in general, quite desirable).

Hm. At this point a disorderly, sloppy, uncertain and inaccurate fellow may see she could be among the best, the cream of the cream, and that it matters above much else to be like that in "the right place, at the right time" and in fit situations and not be degraded. We have the memorable saying by Werner von Braun also: "Basic research is what I am doing when I don't know what I am doing. (In an interview in the New York Times, 16 December 1957).

And, as Maslow writes: "Doubt, tentativeness, uncertainty, with the consequent necessity for abeyance of decision, which is for most a torture, can be for some a pleasantly stimulating challenge, a high spot in life rather than a low."

From this, promising sloppy young one, get an education and get a good job for being sloppy. The goes for all who tend to be comfortably disorderly, anarchic, chaotic, vague, doubtful, uncertain, indefinite, approximate, inexact, or inaccurate. Are you full of doubts - try to get a research position, for good research is rooted in skilled doubting, as a matter of fact. And so on. A vague or approximate type may find politics good, and not a torture. The idea is to be comfortably indefinite and so on.


Abraham H. Maslow, Literature  

Maslow, Abraham H. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. Revised by Robert Frager, James Fadiman, Cynthia McReynolds and Ruth Cox. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.

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