Provision #595: Beyond Survival

Laser Provision

Between bankruptcies, job losses, foreclosures, and scandals there’s plenty in the news to stimulate panic and fear. When that happens, we often shut down our higher-level functions in favor of the lower-level things that will protect our interests and enable us to survive. Although it’s important to pay attention to our survival needs, it’s also important to go beyond survival when times are tough. Otherwise, we may lose our soul in the process of finding our way through the forest. This Provision will assist you to make it so.

LifeTrek Provision

Many of you may be familiar with the hierarchy of needs first proposed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943. It is typically diagrammed in the form of a pyramid with five levels. The lowest four levels are what Maslow called “deficiency needs” since a failure to meet these needs creates observable physical and/or psychological deficiencies. The top level represents what Maslow called “growth needs” since they represent elective efforts to become more fully happy and alive.

By 1971, Maslow and others had subdivided the “growth needs” into four sub-levels, since there is an ever-expanding universe of potentialities, possibilities, and pulchritudes that contribute to human growth. In reverse order, then, from bottom to top, here is how Maslow described those various needs:

    1. Level 1 Needs • Physiological: Breathing, Food, Water, Sleep, Sex, Homeostasis, Excretion
    2. Level 2 Needs • Safety: Security of Body, Employment, Resources, Morality, Family, Health, Property
    3. Level 3 Needs • Love/Belonging: Friendship, Family, Intimacy, Be Accepted
    4. Level 4 Needs • Esteem: Self-Esteem, Confidence, Achievement, Recognition, Respect
    5. Level 5.1 Needs • Cognitive: Knowledge, Understanding, Problem Solving, Exploration
    6. Level 5.2 Needs • Aesthetic: Symmetry, Order, Beauty
    7. Level 5.3 Needs • Self-Actualization: Self-Fulfillment, Self-Efficacy, Creativity, Spontaneity
    8. Level 5.4 Needs • Transcendence: Altruism, Service, Wonder, Beyond Ego, Contribution, Connection, Wholeness


The lists of descriptors for the various needs are in no sense exhaustive. They are rather suggestive of what each level entails; you may think of other descriptors and you can certainly see overlap between the descriptors. That’s all well and good since the heart of Maslow’s conception has less to do with the description of the needs than with the recognition of the needs as universal, human phenomena. No matter who we are, no matter where we live, no matter what we believe, no matter how we seek to satisfy them, all human beings have the same needs. And that’s a radical concept.

One of the debates since Maslow’s time has to do with the notion of understanding and portraying needs as existing within a hierarchy. As originally conceived, both developmentally and theoretically, Maslow suggested that people had to meet lower-level needs before they could, would, or should be expected to meet higher-level needs. When someone is starving, for example, due to a lack of food and water, they are not going to have much interest in or energy for beauty, creativity, and wonder. Or so Maslow thought.

That idea, however, has been largely discredited since Maslow’s time. Due in part to studies with children, who evidence interest in Level 5 Needs regardless of circumstance, it is now understood that all human beings have all of these needs all of the time. It may not even be helpful to differentiate between “deficiency needs” and “growth needs.” Who’s to say, for example, that a lack of understanding, beauty, self-efficacy, or contribution does not create observable deficiencies in a person? Similarly, who’s to say that rest, health, intimacy, and recognition do not stimulate growth?

It works this way because human beings are whole beings. Consider the physical body. It has different parts, but they come as a total package. Meeting the needs of one meets the needs of all, and vice-versa. So, too, when it comes to the many needs identified by Maslow and those who have followed in his footsteps. They may appear to be different, but they come as a total package. Meeting one need contributes to meeting every need, and it really doesn’t matter where you choose to start.

Which brings me to the point of today’s Provision: with all the doom-and-gloom reporting of one financial crisis after another, it’s tempting to become a “survivalist” focused primarily if not solely on those Level 1 and Level 2 Needs. That, however, would be a mistake. Those other needs don’t go away just because of tough times. Contrary to Maslow, they may become even more important in tough times. The need for transcendence is deeply imbedded. And by attending to higher-level needs we may find it easier, rather than harder, to meet lower level needs.

So let this Provision serve as a clarion call for “thrivalism,” rather than mere “survivalism,” in tough times. My mother remembers her father, who eked out an existence like so many others during the Great Depression, putting dimes on the sill of their garage window in the alley just in case someone might happen upon them while passing by. My grandfather figured that the discovery of a dime might not only put a little money in someone’s pocket; it also might put a smile on their face for having found a little money rather unexpectedly.

That’s what I mean by “thrivalism” • if we hope to thrive in difficult times, then we have to find ways to keep our spirits alive. It’s not enough to meet those basic, survival needs. We also have to meet those higher, growth needs. And it doesn’t take much.

The other day I found my wife looking out the window, on what looked to me like a cold, dreary, and rainy day. I teased her a bit when she commented on the beauty of what she was looking at, since this was a far cry from the blooming splendor of spring. She brought me up short, however, with her reconnaissance of all the things she found inspiring in the natural environment: winter birds, rust-colored leaves, bending branches, and breezy clouds. I stopped my banter and opened my eyes. There really was a lot to see, celebrate, and appreciate.

I submit we can do that at any time, at any place, in any circumstance, and for any reason. We just have to give ourselves the permission and time to look. I also submit that we need to do that if we hope to maintain and enrich our humanity in difficult times. We ignore those “growth needs” at our peril.

One interesting way to do that is to read the news through the lens of the higher-level needs. For example, take the two latest examples of apparent greed and corruption: the alleged multi-million dollar pay-to-play racket of the Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, and the alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme of the Wall Street veteran, Bernard Madoff. It’s easy to read those stories with nothing but disdain and disgust, lashing out in anger or retreating in fear. I know more than one person who is ready to put their money in a mattress.

But there are other ways to read those stories. We can become interested, for example, in the legitimate needs they were trying to meet through their illegitimate actions. We can see the beauty of those legitimate needs, recognizing that we have them too, as well as the tragedy of their counterproductive and hurtful strategies for meeting those needs. We can look for creative ways to meet our needs that will enrich rather than erode life. We can even feel grateful for the whistleblowers and for those who are trying to pick up the pieces. We can certainly feel compassion for those who have suffered great loss in the process.

These are but some of the many ways that we can hold our heads high during times of crisis. Don’t cave into the panic of the times. Instead, reach into the wonder that lies behind them all. That will take us beyond surviving to thriving in the face of fear. It will keep us human and growing. It will enable us, as Ken Medema likes to sing, to “dance in the dragon’s jaws.” 

Coaching Inquiries: How are you reacting to the times? What pressures are you feeling? What needs are getting stimulated? Where can you turn for support and understanding? Who can assist you to sort out what’s going on, what your options on, and how to move forward in faith? Why not reach out for coaching today?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Happy 54th Birthday! We share the same birth year 🙂 The recent economic crisis affords all of us the opportunity to not only look for good, but also to use the resources we already have. In Western countries most of us are far richer in many ways than most world citizens. I’m thankful that this holiday season will be much less focused on empty materialism, and those important, thankful, conversations are taking place between more people.

Happy birthday, Bob. The world is a better a place because of you. I treasure reading your thoughts. I am know that are countless others that are in the same boat. You truly are a total person.

Happy Birthday to you, Bob. I do hope you had a wonderful day yesterday. Thank you for your recent Provision, including the story about the glasses. It was wonderful.

The story about the glasses is very inspirational Bob • thank you for that. I think it fits with what I say to people who have cancer • what can you do today to make your life be the best it can be? I see cancer as a wake up call not a death sentence.

Your last Provision was another smooth, wide, and flat stone on my path! It is good that you are in the world at this time. We yearn for voices of those who bring reason, lightness, hope, possibility and who provide guideposts that we might continue our paths forward. It is good that you are in this world at this time! You are one of those voices, and one many hear regularly. Many blessings.

Thanks so much for that poignant description of Paul’s baptism in your last provision. We all read it out loud together, and it re-created that beautiful occasion for us. You definitely tapped into the unexpected lesson that came with that wave. Thanks again for your unhesitating decision to “do the right thing” that day, and in many other ways with your life.

I love getting your Sunday musings. They offer links to the Spirit that have ended up in my sermons in some way or another on more than one occasion. Thanks!

Little story • I have been having some internal resistance to my loving-kindness meditation in the last few days. I was feeling odd and sort of bereft about it, and was sitting with that feeling. Just now, when I read the words in your mail signature • goodness, peace, and joy • they filled me up and felt just exactly right. They found their home, and I am grateful to you for that. Thanks!  

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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