Humanistic Tradition The Motive to Self Actualize

In 1995, an American legend passed away—Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead, reportedly of heart failure, at the age of 53. In the many newspaper stories recounting his life and times, reporters often suggested that Garcia lived longer than he should have, given his lifestyle. His band was constantly on the road for three decades, and Garcia was known to have abused a multitude of drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and alcohol, on a regular basis.

Other entertainers from the past have also abused drugs and alcohol—and died as a result—at much younger ages than Garcia, such as John Belushi (died at 33), Kurt Cobain (died at 27), Jimi Hendrix (died at 27), Janis Joplin (died at 27), Jim Morrison (died at 27), Keith Moon (died at 31), and Elvis Presley (died at 42). With each such death, the public engages briefly in an age-old debate about persona responsibility and the self-destructiveness often seen in artists. Some people argue that such artists are victims of their times or their culture. Garcia, for example, was thought to carry the burden of representing the best (and worst) of the 1960s counterculture; he and his band were often viewed as a time capsule from that era.

Another view of the same situation is that Garcia did kill himself, that he slowly but willfully self-destructed. This view implies that Garcia was responsible for his own demise. In an MTV interview the week of Garcia's death, then-President Bill Clinton represented this view: "While he had great talent, he also had a terrible problem [heroin addiction]. . . . You don't have to have a destructive lifestyle to be a genius." The implication is that Garcia's genius and his self-destructive tendencies were two separate parts of his personality and that one did not necessarily produce the other. Garcia killed himself by his own free will, in President Clinton' s perspective, and he was responsible for his own death due to the lifestyle choices he had made over the years.

Was Garcia a victim of his culture, or was he responsible for his own self-destruction? The answer depends on how one views free will in relation to motivation. Earlier , in our A Closer Look section we discussed unconscious (implicit) motives. These are motives that a person is lar gely unaware of yet guide his or her behavior, life choices, and responses to projective tests such as the TAT. Choices based on unconscious motives are, in most respects, made without free will. The Garcia question really becomes whether or not he was aware of his motives, whether he knew what he was doing when he made his many self-destructive life choices.

An emphasis on conscious awareness of needs, choice, and personal responsibility is one of the characteristics of the humanistic tradition approach to motivation. Humanistic psychologists emphasize the role of choice in human life, as well as the influence of responsibility on creating a meaningful and satisfying life. The meaning of any person' s life, according to the humanistic approach, is found in the choices that person makes and the responsibility he or she takes for those choices. In midlife, for example, some people conclude that they are not exercising much choice in

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who died in a drug rehabilitation center in 1995. Some argue he was a victim of his times and his mission to maintain a vision of the 1960s counterculture. Others argue that Garcia was a musical genius who also chose a very destructive lifestyle. The issue of personal responsibility is important in the humanistic approach to motivation.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who died in a drug rehabilitation center in 1995. Some argue he was a victim of his times and his mission to maintain a vision of the 1960s counterculture. Others argue that Garcia was a musical genius who also chose a very destructive lifestyle. The issue of personal responsibility is important in the humanistic approach to motivation.

their daily lives, that they have fallen into a rut in their careers, their personal relationships, or both. For example, the 2000 Oscar -winning movie American Beauty portrays the desperation of a man who has realized he is living a life he has not chosen and his extreme attempts to reclaim and take responsibility for his life. Some people respond to such a realization with drastic ef forts to resume responsibility for creating their own lives. Career changes, divorce, moves across the country , and other drastic choices are often symptoms of, and sometimes solutions to, the midlife crisis of responsibility for one's life.

A second major characteristic of the humanistic tradition is an emphasis on the human need for growth and the realization of one' s full potential. Human nature, according to this view, is positive and life-affirming. This view stands in marked contrast to psychoanalysis, which takes a rather pessimistic view of human nature, one that views humans as seething cauldrons of primitive and destructive instincts. The humanistic tradition provides an optimistic counterpoint, one that stresses the process of positive growth toward a desired or even an idealized human potential. That human potential is summed up in the concept of the self-actualization motive.

We will define self-actualization shortl . First, we must note a third characteristic of the humanistic tradition that distinguishes it from other motivational approaches. The humanistic tradition views much of motivation as being based in a need to grow, to become what one is meant to be. The other traditions, including those of Freud, Murray, and McClelland, view motivation as coming from a specific deficit or lack. This is a subtle but important distinction, and it represents a historical break in motivation theory and research. All the motives we have discussed—achievement, power, and intimacy—are deficiency motives. In the humanistic tradition, the mos human of all motivations—the motive to self-actualize—is seen as not based on a deficienc . Rather, it is a growth-based motive, a motive to develop, to flourish, an to become more and more what one is destined to become. In the words of Abraham Maslow (1968), who coined the term in the 1960s, self-actualization is the process of becoming "more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming" (p. 46).

Maslow's Contributions

Any discussion of the motive to self-actualize has to include Maslow' s contributions (see Maslow & Hof fman, 1996). Several of his ideas form the foundation for theory and research in this area.

Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow (1908-1970) began with the concept of need but defined needs primarily b their goals. Maslow believed that needs were hierarchically or ganized, with more basic needs found toward the bottom of the hierarchy and the self-actualization need at the top (see Figure 1 1.2). He divided the hierarchy of needs into five levels

At the base of the need hierarchy are the physiological needs. These include needs that are of prime importance to the immediate survival of the individual (the need for food, water, air, and sleep), as well as to the long-term survival of the species (e.g., the need for sex). At the next highest level are the safety needs. These have to do with shelter and security , such as having a place to live and being free from the threat of danger. Maslow believed that building a life that was orderly , structured, and predictable also fell under safety needs. Having your automobile inspected prior to a long trip might be seen as an expression of your safety needs.

Self- \ actualization \

Esteem \

Belongingness \

Safety \ Physiological \

Figure 11.2

Maslow's hierarchy of needs in his theory of motivation. The needs are organized hierarchically into levels. Lower-level needs are more pressing (indicated by larger, bolder fonts) than are higher-level needs.

With only two levels mentioned so far , we can make a few important observations. One is that we typically must satisfy the lower needs before we proceed to satisfy the higher needs. One of Maslow' s enduring contributions is that he assembled the needs in a specific orde , providing an understanding of how they relate to one another. Obviously, we have to have enough food and water before we will worry about earning esteem and respect from our peers. It is possible, of course, to fin examples of people who do not follow the hierarchy (e.g., starving artists, who frequently go without adequate food to continue expressing themselves in their art). Maslow's theory, like most personality theories, is meant to apply to the average person or to describe human nature in general. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, people appear , on average, to work their way up Maslow' s hierarchy, from the lowest to the highest level. Maslow also taught that the need hierarchy emer ges during the course of human development, with the lower -level needs emer ging earlier in life than the higher -level needs.

A second observation is that needs lower in the hierarchy are more powerful or more pressing, when not satisfied, than the needs toward the top of the hierarch . The higher-level needs are less relevant to survival, so they are less ur gent when not satisfied than the lower needs. Another way to put this is that, when people are working on satisfying their higher needs, their motivation is weak and easily disrupted. Maslow (1968) stated that "this inner tendency [toward self-actualization] is not strong and overpowering and unmistakable like the instincts of animals. It is weak and delicate and subtle and easily overcome by habit, cultural pressures, and wrong attitudes toward it" (p. 191).

People typically work at satisfying multiple needs at the same time. It is easy to find examples o people engaging in a variety of tasks that represent different needs in a given period of time (e.g., eating, installing a new lock on the front door, going to a family reunion, and studying for an exam to earn a better grade). At any given time, however, we can determine the level at which a person is investing most of his or her energy. The point is that, even if we are working primarily on self-actualization needs, we need to do certain things (e.g., buy groceries) to make sure the lower needs continue to be satisfied

The plots of many movies, particularly adventure movies, involve people who find themselves i situations that force them to take a step downward on the hierarchy of needs—circumstances that require a sudden shift in focus to safety or even physiological needs. The series of Alien and Die Hard movies are examples of films that illustrate this phenomenon. In the film The Edge, actors Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin take a few steps down the hierarchy of needs when their plane crashes in the wilderness and they are pursued by a lar ge, hungry, and very persistent grizzly bear .

The third level in Maslow's hierarchy consists of belongingness needs. Humans are a very social species, and most people possess a strong need to belong to groups (families, sororities/fraternities, churches, clubs, teams, etc.) (Baumeister & Leary , 1995). Being accepted by others and welcomed into a group represents a somewhat more psychological need than the physiological needs or the need for safety . Some observers have ar gued that modern society provides fewer opportunities for satisfying our need to belong than it did in the past, when ready-made groups existed and people were automatic members (e.g., multigenerational extended families and small towns in which virtually everyone felt like a member of the community). Loneliness is a sign that these needs are not being satisfied; alienation from one s social group is another. The popularity of so-called street gangs is a testament to the strength of belongingness needs. Gangs provide group membership to people who might otherwise feel alienated or excluded from groups available to members of the dominant culture.

The fourth level of need in Maslow' s hierarchy contains esteem needs. There are really two types of esteem—esteem from others and self-esteem, the latter often depending on the former. We want to be seen by others as competent, as strong, and as able to achieve. We want to be respected by others for our achievements and our abilities. We also want this respect to translate into self-esteem; we want to feel good about ourselves, to feel that we are worthwhile, valuable, and competent. Much of the activity of adult daily life is geared toward achieving recognition and esteem from others and bolstering self-confidence

The pinnacle of Maslow' s need hierarchy is the self-actualization need, the need to develop one's potential, to become the person one was meant to be. You might think this is dif ficult, as it assumes that one must first figure out who one was me to be. However, self-actualizers seem to just know who they are and have few doubts about the direction their lives should take.

In the movie The Edge, the plot involves two high esteem men who are suddenly knocked several steps down on Maslow's hierarchy of needs by a large and persistent grizzly bear.
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  • LUWAM
    What is selfactualization motive?
    2 years ago

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