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Monday, March 15, 2010

What Maslow’s Humanistic Psychology Means for India


Under the chaotic, secularly communal, communally secular, corrupt, unpatriotic, fundamentally anti-Hindu, ideologically evangelical and pan-Islamic Sonia Congress UPA government, India is in the vicious coalition grip of what I call ‘An Anarchy of Greeds’. India is under the epidemic of an inhumanistic psychology represented by self-seeking leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Karunanidhi etc. Our country has been completely demotivated and demoralised by these Neros of modern India who are happy fiddling with national interests when the whole country is burning. In order to escape from this cruel terrestrial reality in India, I turned to the pages of Abraham Maslow for inspiration and guidance.


Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was the high priest of the 1960s ‘Human Potential Movement’. It was he who introduced the core idea of the ‘Self-actualising Person’ in his path breaking book Motivation and Personality. In more ways than one he is the father of modern humanistic psychology. He presented a new image of human nature that excited a whole generation.

Humanistic psychology is a school of psychology that emerged in the 1950s as a reaction against both behaviorism and psychoanalysis. It was explicitly concerned with the human dimension of psychology and the human context for the development of psychological theory. Historically speaking, humanistic psychology has its roots in the existentialist thought of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre

Humanistic psychology is also sometimes understood within the concept of the three different 'Forces' of Psychology, namely, Behaviorism, Psychonanalysis and Humanism. The 'First Force' grew out of Ivan Pavlov's work with the conditioned reflex, and laid the foundations for academic psychology in the United States associated with the names of Watson and Skinner. This school was later called the Science of Behaviour. It was Abraham Maslow who later gave it the name of The First Force’

The ‘Second Force’ came out of Sigmund Freud's (1856-1939) research of Psychoanalysis, and the psychologies of Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Erik Erikson (1902-1994), Carl Jung (1875-1961), Erich Fromm, (1900-1980) Karen Horney (1885-1952), Otto Rank (1884-1939), Melanie Klein (1882-1960), Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949), and others. These psychologists focused on the depth of the human psyche, which they stressed, must be combined with those of the conscious mind in order to produce a healthy human personality.

In the late 1950s, two meetings were held in Detroit among psychologists who were interested in founding a professional association dedicated to a more humanistic vision. They were convinced that humanity, humanism and a humanistic vision cannot afford to ignore the sign-posts of self, self-actualisation, health, creativity, nature, being, becoming, individuality, and meaning.

The major psychologists wanted to create a complete portfolio of description of what it is to be a human being, and investigated the uniquely human aspects of experience, such as love, hope and creativity. These psychologists, including Abraham Maslow and Clark Moustakas, came to the conclusion that this new approach was likely to become the central concerns of a new psychological movement, known as the 'Third Force'


Born in 1908 to Russian-Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, Abraham Maslow was the oldest of 7 children. He was set to be shy, neurotic, and depressive but with a passionate curiosity and native intelligence. He excelled in school. He received his BA in 1930, his MA in 1931, and his PhD in 1934, all in psychology, all from the University of Wisconsin. A year after graduation, he returned to New York to work with E L Thorndike at Columbia, where Maslow became interested in research on human sexuality. He began teaching full time at Brooklyn College.
E.L.THORNDIKE (1874-1949)

During this period of his life, he came into contact with the many European intellectuals that were immigrating to the US, and Brooklyn in particular, at that time people like Adler, Fromm, Horney as well as several Gestalt and Freudian psychologists.

KURT GOLDSTEIN (1878-1965)

Abraham Maslow served as the Professor in the Chair of the Psychology Department at Brandeis University at Boston, Mass. from 1951 to 1969. While there he met Kurt Goldstein (1878 - 1965), a German neurologist and psychiatrist who was a pioneer in modern NeuroPsychology. He created a holistic theory of the organism based on Gestalt theory which deeply influenced the development of Gestalt therapy. It was Kurt Goldstein who had originated the idea of SELF-ACTUALISATION in his famous book in German Der Aufbau des Organismus published in 1934. This very important book was published again in English: The Organism with an introduction by Oliver Sacks in 1995.

It was at Brandeis that Maslow began his crusade for a Humanistic Psychology, something that was ultimately much more important to him than his own theorising. He spent his final years in semi-retirement in California, until, on June 8 1970, he died of a heart attack after years of ill health.

Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs' is a famous concept in Humanistic Psychology. He organised human needs into three broad levels:

1) The physiological: air, food and water,

2) The psychological: safety, love, self-esteem, and

3) Self-actualisation. Maslow was of the view that the higher needs were as much a part of our nature as the lower, indeed were instinctive and biological. The need for self-actualization is never satisfied, and Maslow referred to it as a being need — be all you can be.

Most civilisations had mistakenly put the higher and lower needs at odds with each other, seeing the animalistic basic drives as conflicting with the finer things to which we aspire like truth, love, and beauty. In striking contrast, Maslow saw these needs as a continuum, in which the satisfaction of the lower needs came before a person's higher mental and moral development.

Having met the basic bodily requirements, and reached the state where we feel we are loved, respected and enjoy a sense of belonging including philosophical or religious identity, we seek self-actualisation. He said that “the self-actualising people have attained the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities and the like”. 

Maslow began by picking out a group of people, some historical figures, some people he knew, whom he felt clearly met the standard of self-actualization. Included in this august group were Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Adams, William James, Albert Schweitzer, Benedict Spinoza, and Alduous Huxley, plus 12 unnamed people who were alive at the time Maslow did his research. He then looked at their biographies, writings, the acts and words of those he knew personally, and so on. From these sources, he developed a list of qualities that seemed characteristic of these people, as opposed to the great mass of us. 
Beyond the routine of needs fulfillment, Maslow envisioned moments of extraordinary experience, known as Peak experiences, which are profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, during which a person feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet a part of the world, more aware of truth, justice, harmony, goodness, and so on. Self-actualizing people have many such peak experiences.

Maslow's thinking was surprisingly original—-most psychologists before him had been concerned with the abnormal and the ill. He wanted to know what constituted positive mental health. Humanistic psychology gave rise to several different therapies, all guided by the idea that people possess the inner resources for growth and healing and that the point of therapy is to help remove obstacles to individuals' achieving them. The most famous of these was client-centered therapy developed by Carl Rogers. Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy, based on the teachings of Alfred Adler, also encourages the optimal psychological development of the individual.

Maslow's influence extended beyond psychology--his work on peak experiences is relevant to religious studies, while his work on management is applicable to transpersonal business studies.

The question becomes, of course, what exactly does Maslow mean by self-actualisation? To answer that, we need to look at the kind of people he called self-actualisers. Fortunately, he did this for us, using a qualitative method called biographical analysis.

These great people were reality-centered, which means they could differentiate what is fake and dishonest from what is real and genuine. They were problem-centered, meaning they treated life's difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be railed at or surrendered to. And they had a different perception of means and ends. They enjoyed solitude, and were comfortable being alone. At the same time they enjoyed deeper personal relations with a few close friends and family members, rather than mere shallow relationships with many people. They enjoyed autonomy, a relative independence from physical and social needs. And they resisted enculturation, that is, they were not susceptible to social pressure to be ‘well adjusted’ or to ‘fit in’? They were, in fact, nonconformists in the best sense. They had an unhostile sense of humour, preferring to joke at their own expense, or at the human condition, and never directing their humour at others. They were noted for their spontaneity and simplicity (unlike complexity, criminality, venality and bestiality displayed by the so-called great leaders referred to in Para 1 above.).

Self-actualised people preferred being themselves rather than being pretentious or artificial. Further, they had a sense of humility and respect towards others, something Maslow also called democratic values, meaning that they were open to ethnic and individual variety, even treasuring it. They had a quality Maslow called human kinship or social interest, marked by compassion and humanity. This human kinship was fortified by a strong ethics, which was spiritual but seldom conventionally religious in nature. They had a certain freshness of appreciation, an ability to see things, even ordinary things, with wonder.

This attitude gave them their ability to be CREATIVE, INVENTIVE, and ORIGINAL. And, finally, these people tended to have more peak experiences than the average person. A PEAK EXPERIENCE is one that takes you out of yourself, that makes you feel very tiny, or very large, to some extent one with life or nature or God. It gives you a feeling of being a part of the infinite and the eternal. These experiences tend to leave their mark on a person, change them for the better, and many people actively seek them out. They are also called mystical experiences, and are an important part of many religious and philosophical traditions. The implication that the human being is best defined not by what it can be reduced to but by what it aspires to is one of the things I like about Maslow’s Peak Experience Theory.

Certainly, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been seminal to understanding motivation in the workplace, and the self-actualisation of the employee has become a serious concern in corporate business in all parts of the world. He has been a very inspirational figure in personality theories.

For the health, welfare and happiness of mankind as a whole, his beautiful message should not be lost sight of: Psychology is, first and foremost, about people, real people in real lives, and not about computer models, statistical analyses, rat behavior, test scores, and laboratories. It will be appropriate to conclude in the words of Abraham Maslow himself: “Being a human being in the sense of being born to the human species, must be defined also in terms of becoming a human being. In this sense, a baby is only potentially a human being, and must grow into humanness.”

Let me give my favourite quotations from the intellectual armoury and arsenal of MASLOWANA:

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”

“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”

“We fear to know the fearsome and unsavoury aspects of ourselves, but we fear even more to know the godlike in ourselves”

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

“If I were dropped out of a plane into the ocean and told the nearest land was a thousand miles away, I'd still swim. And I'd despise the one who gave up.”

“The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.”

“Education must be seen as at least partially an effort to produce the good human being, to foster the good life and the good society.”

“Those who define religion just as going to a particular building on Sunday and hearing a particular kind of formula repeated, this is all irrelevant. But for those who define religion not necessarily in terms of the supernatural, or ceremonies, or rituals, but in terms of deep concern with the problems of human beings, with the problems of ethics, of the future of man, then this kind of philosophy, translated into the work life, turns out to be very much like the new style of management and of organization.”- Abraham Maslow