I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.
The great Abraham Maslow came up with one of the most insightful templates for understanding human needs in history. He called it The Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow divided human needs into five levels. His argument was that human nature does not allow one to move to the needs on the next level of the hierarchy until the needs at the lower levels are secure. You can see a depiction of the hierarchy below.
As you can see, there are many basic needs that must be met at the three bottom levels before you have a true foundation for the types of thinking and action we talk about in personal development.
Look at those three bottom levels and consider how many people in our world – how many people you know personally – are not or have not achieved the bottom three levels in the hierarchy. These are survival levels not thrive levels. Immediately you see the challenge in our world. There are a lot of hurt, angry, broken people running around on this planet trying to get those bottom needs met. Our best systems of government and economics continue to fail miserably in helping even a majority of people reach stage 4.
If your homeless, starving, abused, sick, it’s challenging those bottom three levels can seem like a mountain to climb.
Let be clear. There is no moral high ground here because you might be inhabiting stage 4 or 5, while others are not. In fact, if you’re at those levels, I would argue, you have a kind of moral obligation to see this path of struggle that being human is and recognize the humanness and the commonality you share with those struggling people.
Buddhism does not recognize the western monotheistic concept of sin. The Buddha discussed skillful and unskillful means that human beings use to get what they want in the world. When people are in survival mode, they very well might do things that you would never do. Do you have enough compassion not to judge and to see their humanness even when they cannot see it in themselves?
Often people struggling on the first three levels are using unskillful means to get what they want. They fear there’s not enough. They fear others will take theirs. They fear people who are different. Bigotries and hatreds often flourish in this environment. It’s easy to fall into an “Us” vs. “Them” mentality.
Power Hack: What can you do?
- Use skillful means; that is don’t become selfish, mean-spirited, and violent in your efforts to climb the hierarchy. If the enlightened action doesn’t begin with you, where will it begin?
- Really look for the humanness in other and be aware of the common and challenging path we’re all walking. Judge less. Forgive more. Do it even with people who don’t look like you, think like you, or act like you.
- Do all you can ethically and practically to reach the highest level. The world would change tomorrow if we had a critical mass of people operating on that Self-Actualization level. You can only help others once you have helped yourself.
- Remember people are mostly not evil. They may appear evil as they struggle unskillfully to get their survival needs met. However, that self-actualized being already lives within them. Do what you can to help them let that person become self-actualized.
The world likes to tell you that you’ve been cheated, it’s unfair, they took what was yours, be angry, feel divided, even get violent to get what you want. That predominant mindset is born of the survival mode of the first three levels. It will never get you any higher than level three and it’s likely to have you always worried about level 1.
Buddha shared the perfect answer for this in the Dhammapada.
3. “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,”–in those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.
4. “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,”–in those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred will cease.
5. For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is a universal law.
6. The world does not know that we must all come to an end here; but those who know it, their quarrels cease at once.
You’ve been cheated. I’ve been cheated. Our world largely continues to operate in the survival levels. The question for you is this. Will you light the way out cycle for yourself and others or will you just wallow in the darkness? See the humanness in every person on this planet beginning with you.
As if with so much else we discuss on this blog, the choice is yours.
Namaste, my friends. May this day bring you peace, abundance, and joy!