Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that, in order for an individual to be motivated to achieve higher needs, their lower needs must be met first. That is to say that if a person does not have their most basic needs being met (food, water, air, sleep), they are not going to be concerning themselves much with higher needs, such as friends or status. It is hard to argue with the truth of this premise — after all if you were having trouble breathing, an idea such as being popular would become remarkably trivial.
The next level above these physiological needs is safety, such as employment, health, resources and property. After that is love and belonging, then esteem, followed lastly by self-actualization.
Carl Jung similarly suggests that during our young adult lives our minds are consumed by survival as we establish ourselves in our careers, build homes for ourselves and raise our children. It isn’t until later in life that our minds become free from preoccupation with survival and we are able to shift to higher levels of thinking. Depending upon a person’s individual circumstances this will be more or less true, but the idea remains the same that higher thinking must always come after survival.
Our survival instincts are remarkably strong. When our survival is threatened, all other things cease to be important. (Take adrenaline for instance — when your adrenaline kicks in, it literally begins to alter your body’s functioning, redistributing blood, modifying the metabolism, and changing your vision.) A parent will understand how this instinct extends to protecting our offspring, bringing out the “mama bear” if our children’s well-being or safety is threatened.
In the United States, one of the richest countries in the world with relatively low unemployment rates, we don’t give too much thought to the idea of “survival.” When we think of those struggling to survive, we tend to think beyond our borders to third-world countries that lack clean water and proper medical care. However, I believe that this hyperbolic view of survival prevents us from seeing the valid struggles of those at home, and therefore prevents us from properly understanding the…