Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been a landmark of psychology, used in education and even church ministries. Now some psychologists are revising his model, making the pinnacle not “self-actualization” but, in the words of a Christianity Today column by Elrena Evans, “something more self-giving”:
Psychologists are considering a shift to famed psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Long a fixture in the training of educators and workforce managers, Maslow’s pyramid argues that humans’ basic needs (food, water, air, sleep) must be met before they can begin to seek other, “higher” fulfillments. It makes sense: bereft of basic needs, people can’t concentrate on bigger goals. I saw this pyramid again and again when in college, minoring in education, used to stress that a child who feels hungry, tired, and unsafe is really not going to care about learning algebra, and with good reason.
Now, though, a team of four researchers headed by Arizona State University social psychology professor Douglas T. Kenrick is challenging the top tier of Maslow’s pyramid. They write in a paper recently published in Perspectives on Psychological Science that Maslow’s ultimate goal, the pinnacle of human achievement, is not “self-actualization” or the accomplishment of such higher-order functions as creativity, problem-solving, and morality. It is — wait for it — parenting.
The reasoning is evolutionary: Life’s biological goal cannot be self-focused, but has to be the perpetuation of the species. Still, I think the re-focus is more in line with Christianity. To get our moral thinking away from righteousness being just private conformity to rules and instead being an orientation to other people–loving and serving one’s neighbor– would be a big advance, and I’m glad if Maslow can help towards that end.
Indeed, the old hierarchy included “morality” but classified that as “self-actualization” rather than as loving and serving the neighbor. Even non-parents can find the “pinnacle” of life in selfless service, since it animates not just parenthood but all vocations.