Everyone is stuck in a forward gear

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has a list of human requirements usually represented as a pyramid. At the bottom is food and sleep etc., at the top is self actualisation. All the stages in the hierarchy require some kind of forward momentum to achieve the next stage in the pyramid. The need for shelter, for example, is solved through growth, enterprise, innovation, industry.

All except one.

Not many people have reached the final stage – self actualisation – because, traditionally, it was beyond the reach of all but the most talented. Today however, despite what the media exhorts, it is within the reach of most people living in the Western world. Very few individuals make the final stage however as it is unknown territory and there is little encouragement from the media to explore this part of human development. This might have something to do with the fact that not much thought had been given to the subject. But as we hit the buffers on the penultimate stage of the pyramid, we need to address the subject now. That’s because self actualisation dispenses with the apparatus for getting there.

By definition, when we reach the top of the pyramid, we have all the material and emotional things we need to live a fulfilling life. The only ‘growth’ is self development and the encouragement of development in others. So if the whole of society and your entire life is built upon the premise of growth in material goods and consuming those goods, how do you suddenly shift to a neutral or even reverse gear and adopt an entirely different world view?
I keep reminding people that, as a citizen in the western world they are already one of the richest people in the world. A person living on an average income in the UK could easily work one or two days a week and have the rest of the time to themselves if they give up the unnecessary consumerism. But because there is no alternative to consumerism, there is nowhere else to go and so people relentlessly continue forward into the trackless wastes of a materialistic desert. Even the area of self development cannot free itself of the consumerist model – ‘buy this book! Pay for this course!’ et-cetera.

For example, in our time poor society an unemployed person on benefits should, logically be the one of the happiest people in society because most of their time is their own. But if there is nothing to do with that time but watch other people chasing and ‘enjoying’ consumerism, which is inextricably linked with esteem and status, then that free time becomes jail time. The only possible escape is if you have a passion for something which requires very little money but a great deal of energy and skill.

Some people are addressing the issue of an alternative to consumerism and the nascent academic subject of happiness is touching upon it. Similarly, the environmentalist movement is making people consider indirectly, the unthinking profligacy of consumerism and forcing the question “Is that all there is?”

So what’s to do?

  • Firstly, we need an infrastructure of community. Historically, the church provided this but as the western world becomes more secular, the churches prominence is declining and nothing is taking its place.
  • Secondly we need to educate people about happiness. Make it a subject at school.
  • And thirdly, we need to encourage creativity everywhere. The days of processing children in our schools to become good workers in the factories and offices needs to be phased out and replaced with a radical programme of support and facilitation for students’ own talents and passions.

One Response to “Everyone is stuck in a forward gear”

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