In past articles, I have frequently referred to the subject of “Maslow’s Theory of the Hierarchy of Needs.” In my opinion, it is one of the most significant behavioral theories that purportedly explains the motivation for actions we could label as “general behavior.”
Attempting a simplified explanation, Maslow hypothesizes that individuals in the human family are in a quest for the fulfillment of needs. Often depicted as a pyramid, Maslow’s theory comprises a five-tier model of human needs. From the bottom of the pyramid to the top, the needs are ranked as: physiological (food and clothing), safety (security), social (friendship), esteem (prestige and accomplishment), and self-actualization (achievement of full potential). Maslow’s theory explains the human motivation from covering the body for warmth (physiological) to living one’s “best life” of creativity and achievement (self-actualization).
Moreover, Maslow believed that when conflict exists between a lower need and a higher need, the lower need will win out. Throughout history, there are numerous examples of individuals and groups rejecting social conventions and public opinion when faced with the option of starvation versus cannibalism. This theory also offers explanation of how some soldiers placed in a threatening environment 24/7/365 can seemingly lose touch with their humanity and all motivation except that of survival.
If there is truth in Maslow’s theory, thoughtful reflection can show reason for many of the societal ills we currently face and the motivation for many of the political decisions made for the benefit of the privileged and wealthy. If a majority are consumed in a struggle for the achievement of lower-level needs, fewer will realize those needs which support competition at a higher societal level.
In the Black community, we often hear reference made to “the speech” that Black parents give to their sons, which increasingly includes an audience of daughters. If our children are consumed with the belief that there is no safe space for them, that the aim of the police is to kill them indiscriminately, or that they are subject to animus of a local gang or bully, it is understandable that their future focus might be on navigating and surviving a hostile environment rather than becoming Rhodes scholars.
Extending that thought, one must ask if this theory gives clarity to the reluctance of Republicans, who overtly demonstrate being obligated to the wealthy and corporate interests, to enact justice in policing legislation or reasonable legislation to reduce gun violence. Without a nudge, few will connect or acknowledge the “possibility” of Maslow’s theory having such a negative impact on societal outcomes.
Blacks and other people of color are not the exclusive victims of this type of negative motivation. It is likely true that whites have been victimized in larger numbers and to greater psychosis than any other group. Stories abound of whites who live in the most remote and whitest of areas of the nation who are motivated to fortify their homes with a multitude of weapons in fear of an imminent attack by a horde of people of color or, at least, a large Black man.
Fear is crippling. Fear can distort the thinking of otherwise rational individuals. Fear is the foundational emotion in the development of hatred. Tucker Carlson and the cohorts of purveyors of fear understand the seeds of disruption and discontent that they sow. They understand that their fragile hold on power — social and otherwise — only exists as long as the fear and divisiveness of the bile they spew.
Sadly, many allow themselves to be oppressed by fear. Explaining their oppression to them is the challenge!
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.