Optional or Indispensable


Abraham Maslow first spoke about his "hierarchy of needs" in a paper published in 1943. It was titled "A Theory of Human Motivation," and in it Maslow suggested that each of us has a variety of needs, some basic (like our need for food, water, and safety), others developmental (like our need for love, respect, and self-actualization).

Maslow's premise was that our basic needs had to be satisfied first. Our needs for growth were important, especially for the realization of a meaningful life. But our basic needs came first, our psychological and spiritual needs came second. They were optional.

In the 40's, when Maslow first published his hierarchy of needs, this split made sense. The world we were living in was simple, and relatively stable.There were no really urgent reasons to object to the idea that our needs for love, belongingness, respect, dignity, and spiritual growth were optional. The pursuit of what seemed like esoteric needs could be reserved for those who had the time and money to spare.

Things are different now...

The world we're living in today is not a 21st Century replica of TV's 1970's drama, The Little House on the Prairie. The world is no longer that simple, and no longer stable. Today, we're living in a world that's characterized by intricate global interdependencies, accelerating rates of change, and increasingly unprecedented levels of complexity. Uncertainty and chaos, not stability, are our 'new normal.'

If this is true, and complexity, chaos and uncertainty are our 'new normal,' can the personal transformations that Maslow described in the 40's and 50's really still be optional? All across the world, we're caught in the midst of a momentous, open-ended global transformation, one that is ever so painfully moving us out of an industrial and into an information society. In this context, doesn't indispensable sound more like the appropriate word to describe our developmental needs?