Are we like this only?

Understanding (and shaping) India

My ramblings on understanding needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is used to understand what motivates people. It classifies human needs into 5 levels.
1. Physiosological needs
2. Safety needs
3. Pyschological needs
4. Esteem needs
5. Self Realization needs
Key to this theory is that a person cannot move up this pyramid until his/her needs at the previous level have been taken care of. I can think of several instances where this is not true.
  • Someone who skips their own meals in order to save up enough for their child’s education. A physiological need is given lower priority than a safety need.
  • A person going on a hunger strike until his/her demands are met is abandoning a basic need (survival) for a self realization need
  • A person standing in line in the hot sun to buy an iPhone is abandoning a basic need (being out of the sun) for a self esteem or self realization need
  • A yogi depriving himself of basic needs in the quest of spiritual enlightenment
  • A student who immolates himself for a cause
While some of these examples may be flawed, they serve to highlight two key weaknesses in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  1. It assumes a hierarchy where one may not exist. In each country and culture, there may be differences in groupings and priorities.
  2. It assumes that Man is rational. Firstly, what is rational for one person is irrational for someone else. Secondly, even a person who is thought of by most as being a rational person will act irrationally on occasion.
People will abandon rational behaviour, and consequently Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,  under several conditions. These conditions can be brought about by others through rabble rousing, PR, advertising and news media.
Perhaps, it is best to not apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to individuals (incidentally this is what it is intended for) and individual cases. Instead, it is probably more useful for understanding how groups of people (e.g. the different Indias) are different from each other.

January 27, 2010 Posted by | models, needs, rationality | 1 Comment