The Hierarchy of (All Kinds of) Needs
At the 2006 TED Conference, Sir Ken Robinson shared his observation that “every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects…. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts – everywhere on earth.” He then went on to point out how today’s educational system was originally designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution. Today, however that old hierarchy no longer works. Due to both global interconnectedness and a resulting demand for creativity, the arts (in the broadest sense) are of utmost importance. The hierarchy has been turned on its head, and the world’s education systems must to adapt to this perspective shift.In 1992, the USDA adopted the Improved American Food Guide Pyramid (shown right) as a way for the public to better understand how to eat healthy. It showed breads and cereals as the foundation of the pyramid, with fewer fruits and vegetables, then meats and dairy and finally fats, oils and sweets – which we should eat the least of. As a result, fat-free products and synthesized sweeteners began showing up everywhere, with damaging effects to our health we are only just beginning to see. Then in 2005, the USDA decided this “one size fits all” model just wouldn’t work. So they came up with a new pyramid (shown below). As you can see, the food groups are shown vertically. The people at the USDA felt this would better portray people’s food needs based level of physical activity. The old pyramid, while well-intentioned, was over-simplistic and may have done more harm than good.
In 1943, psychology professor Abraham Maslow proposed a “hierarchy of needs” in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Based on a study of the most emotionally healthy people he could find, Maslow concluded that there are five levels of needs which motivate humans to behave the way they do: Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, Self-Actualization. Maslow believed “that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs.” However, like so many other hierarchies, Maslow’s might be in need of an update.Categories and hierarchies help us in learning and understanding, but they have limits. We may like to keep the peas from touching the gravy on our plate, but it’s just not that simple. The human being is a complex system. Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef says that human needs are ontological, not hierarchical (as Maslow described). In other words, instead of clear-cut categories, human needs exist simultaneously. For instance, rather than requiring Safety as a prerequisite for Love, the two might co-exist as a combined need.
As we continue our pursuit of community renewal at the edge of chaos, we must be cautious about over-simplifying ourselves. We are complex beings: intellectually, physically and emotionally.