Needs And Goals of Human Life

Hierarchy of Human Needs

As it is surfacing and evolving in these early years of the 21st.century in to-day’s society, spirituality is appearing in diverse thought forms and experiences. We could say that it is being approached and described on an interdisciplinary basis, and rightly so, for it is a wide-ranging comprehensive concept, that demands very sensitive and close scrutiny. Why is it reappearing at this point in time, and especially in the western world, is a significant question? Surely it has to do with many persons’ search for truth about life, and its meaning and purpose, in a highly pluralistic society, where rapid change is the constant reality. Confronted by considerable chaos and unprecedented violence, so vividly portrayed in man’s inhumanity to man, we face the challenge of growing and maturing, socially and spiritually, or perishing as a global village. As we endeavour to articulate what we mean by spirituality, let us first consider how spirit is being used in common parlance. This may give us some clues about what some persons perceive spirituality to be.

Those of us who are animal lovers have often noted how a racehorse, especially one that is difficult to handle, is often referred to as a spirited creature. It appears to be so very full of life, ever wanting to be freed of its restrictive bit and harness - two of our earliest creations of technology to control it for the purpose of overcoming the foot soldier. And then, recall how wild animals kill, with relentless vigour, in order to survive. And now focus on human nature. Will you ever forget the highly emotional oratory of Martin Luther King Junior, at that massive freedom rally in Washington, D.C.? Through his remarkable visionary fervor and vivid awareness of a universal value about humankind, this great and courageous leader challenged the outlook of the world, regarding how we could relate to one another, in a way that we knew was the ultimate truth about this personhood, that we share in common. Like other great leaders before him, M. L. King enabled us to realize anew the importance of responsible freedom and human rights, if we are to survive peacefully, in this one small world. Most of us would call this man a highly spirited individual - a living force for goodness and truth about the essence of life itself. We know now as we review our story, that the colonial British Empire could not continue as a dominating world entity, after the never-ending but powerful non-violent protest of Mahatma Gandhi, who fervently championed the cause of liberty for all, and the need for horizontal interpersonal relationships between differing ethnic and racial groups. And once again, was it not the undaunted spirit of a Winston Churchill who challenged England and the rest of the free world, to rise up and resist the cruel, autocratic regime of Hitler that was claiming the right to eliminate non-aryan persons and rule the known world. And then, so often, in speaking of quite ordinary individuals whom we experience in everyday living, we speak of deeply caring persons who live out life with much compassion and genuine concern for the well being of others, as “fine spirits.”

Just what are we talking about when we refer to spirit in the above illustrations? Is there not a beauty and a gracefulness to behold, in the energy and movement of all animate life, human or otherwise? Do we not often respond with wonder and excitement at the sight of a freely galloping horse or leaping deer? Similarly, do we not marvel at the dynamic tenacity, power and skills of the Olympic speed skater, skier and javelin thrower? There is a latent energy and life force here that we perceive with wonder and awe. And what about the mountain climber who dares all odds to reach the summit. Our insatiable curiosity in our search for truth through the many fields of science, further indicates an inner motivation that will never be denied in this relentless quest. And is there a man or woman on this earth, who does not ponder, in the wee hours of the night, what this life is all about, who we are, and why we are here?

In the Greco-Roman world of yesteryear, people believed there was a living spirit on every doorpost and each passing wind. The Hebrew writes about “ruah” in reference to breath and a life force in an understanding of the Source of creation. The Indian Hindu will speak of a Universal Spirit in relation to pure consciousness and primordial nature or spirit and energy. Today people still comment on the good and evil spirits, as forces in this world. For many of us who believe in a Divine Presence who is unseen but experienced, we often call this entity a Holy Spirit, who is associated with the very creation of aliveness in all creatures, human or animal, and including the inanimate world. Since some of us believe that we are made in the image of this Divine Being, we often perceive ourselves as human spirits. This is all part of our struggle to identify ourselves, and indeed to express our uniqueness in contrast with the rest of the animate world. Currently also, some persons are participating in week-long prayer vigils, often termed spirituality workshops at which special areas of human exploitation and suffering are lifted up for Divine consideration.

But spirituality today is often associated with concepts, thought by many, to be other than of a religious nature. We may sometimes say that whatever enhances or diminishes the human spirit has to do with spirituality. We are referring here to the physical, mental, emotional and social well being of the individual. Whenever our dreams or hopes for the future are shattered for whatever reasons, we usually have a lesser image of ourselves, or our self worth could be fragmented. On the other hand, when life’s expectations are being realized or fulfilled, our whole outlook on the world changes, and we are different persons. The above-mentioned dreams, hopes or expectations could be in the nature of desires or real needs that we feel strongly should be given significant attention by society. We might well make a difference between our conscious desires and our basic needs, for each could have negative or positive attributes. Certainly what we sometimes want so very much may not necessarily be what we need for our well-being, or that of others about us. Too often, we confuse human rights and special privilege as there is a difference between license and responsible freedom.

I now want to refer to a renowned thinker whose insights may well open up for us dimensions about life, that require special attention and especially at this time. I would point to Abraham Maslow, a Jewish immigrant who ventured into North America after the 2nd world war, having experienced some of the horrors of the holocaust. Unlike some of his fellows, he could have come dwelling on demented minds that created and expedited the murder of so many of his fellow Jews. Instead he developed a theory that explains why any person’s basic needs are so important and how, when met, persons continually seek to grow towards self-fulfillment, to meet challenges, and to have new experiences. This theory is called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It enables us to understand more fully how and why our behaviour is motivated by basic human needs. Note the diagram at the end of this document in the form of a pyramid, indicating areas of basic needs that ascend ever higher, in a natural sequence that can be applicable to humankind anywhere anytime.

This listing from lower to higher levels is in the following order; survival, safety, social recognition and a sense of belonging, self esteem (ego), and finally self-fulfillment or realization. The different levels represent different stages. The lower level needs must be satisfied before higher one’s will be attained. Higher levels are dependent on lower levels. As lower needs are satisfied, higher ones emerge. Once a need is satisfied, it stops being as important a source of motivation. Let us now elaborate on what is involved in addressing this hierarchy of needs.

Survival needs point towards our basic requirement for food, water, warmth, rest and shelter. When such factors as these are being denied or threatened, we have difficulty feeling secure or safe, and will do anything to protect such basic needs. When such protection appears to be assured, persons do not have to devote all their energies to survival. This is when such matters as insurance policies, warranties and treaties came into being. Individuals then normally aspire towards some social recognition. We are very social creatures and our need for a feeling of belonging somewhere to a group, of whatever kind, is extremely important to our well-being, When such an experience is realized, persons reach out for a sense of worth, and self-esteem which are very important to anyone’s ego strength. This is basically a status need, and there is nothing wrong about it, as long as we do not deny it to others by trying to put them down, discredit them, or dominate them.

So it is normal to want to feel unique, important and accepted by the group. Indeed any feeling of rejection by the group is devastating to most if not any person. And now when this latter need is being met with reasonable success, many persons will yearn, either consciously or subconsciously, for a sense of self-fulfillment or self-realization. This is often allied then, with a growing awareness of identity or realization of who you really are, or have the potential for being.

Now when circumstances eventuate in such a manner that any of these basic levels of need are being threatened or denied, then the individual or individuals as a group will revert to a lower level, and the process begins anew. When a society such as Rwanda or Kosovo were threatened by ethnic cleansing, survival needs leaped to the forefront, and behaviour pattern of thousands of persons reversed, as they sought to survive and stay alive. When the United Nations finally came to their rescue, some degree of safety was experienced but it was and will be a long time in coming, or its realization to any great extent. Today we could point to many other situations in which persons or groups of persons (societies) are in dire straights of livelihood, resulting in considerable chaos, on an international scale. When such frightening circumstances exist and persist, then human hopes, dreams and expectations are devastated, and the human spirit is diminished or lessened.

I would contend that such realities as we are witnessing and experiencing today, are intimately related to spirituality, for if such adverse behaviour is allowed to continue unabated, then our very civilization is threatened, for basic human needs are being violated in such ways that all meaning and purpose in living are in disarray. Hopefully, through the United Nations mankind will be able to impact changes in the attitudes and visions of humanity internationally, that some degree of peace, community and fellowship can be achieved for future generations.

Is there a relationship between spirituality, ethics, and morality? Of course there is. During his all too brief presidency, John F. Kennedy made the startling proclamation, that for the first time in the story of humankind, we have the ability and capacity to feed, shelter and clothe everyone in the world, and especially in this highly scientific, technological society. This was an amazing revelation, but also a wake-up call to our morality and ethics. For we knew quite well, even in the l960’s, how impoverished millions of people were in many different cultures; a fact of which we are even more aware in this early 20th century. In the light of such reality, our will and intentionality to do something constructive about the situation is very much on the table for continuous evaluation and action. It is an almost overwhelming and complex question that is an ever-present challenge, as we wrestle with our potential for greed of material things and our lust for power. But the moral and ethical challenge is there for all of us, especially in the developed western industrial complex to deal with creatively, and with caring and justice for all our humanity. And great humanitarian efforts are being made through many sources, which deserve our financial and moral support.

Yes, the human spirits of millions of fellows global citizens are being enhanced or diminished, utterly dependent upon our will to address these basic needs of individuals. Some ethical criteria that confront us always include the following; our empathy to walk in the footsteps of others, our attentiveness to the needs, interests and concerns of all others, and finally our capacity to never intentionally harm the well being of others, this being a near-absolute.

And surely, when we give faithful adherence to such basic principles or tenets, we are living out our spirituality in everyday reality. For those of us who are believers in a Divine Presence or Spirit greater than ourselves, we are striving to be in harmony with Ultimate Reality.

Rev. Bill Blackmore