Self-Actualization, an Aimless Pursuit

December 4, 2008
By Rachel Delshad, Fort Lee, NJ

Certain environments have been shaping people’s behavior all around the world. In David Abram’s essay, “The Ecology of Magic,” he portrays how his journey to Indonesia changed his behavior by making him a more connected to nature. He believed the environment shaped him in a way that allowed him to follow Abraham Maslow's “hierarchy of needs.” According to Maslow's “hierarchy of needs” are the prerequisites a person must obtain in order for him or her to survive and to create a “self-actualized” identity. The most fundamental needs that must be fulfilled, in order to become "self actualized," are the "defiency needs," consisting of physiological and psychological needs. A “self-actualized” person is someone who realizes his or her true intellect and emotional potential, allowing him or her to think individually and rise above conformity. Abram believes he has become self actualized by his trip to Indonesia. In his new environment, he met the demands of the “hierarchy of needs,” and he became “self actualized” on a spiritual level. Another essay, “The Power of Context,” written by Malcolm Gladwell, also writes about how the environment people live in shapes their behavior. However, in his essay, the environment has a negative effect on influencing people. Gladwell’s essay shows that the current environment has shaped people so that their physiological and psychological needs are not fulfilled; therefore, their “hierarchy of needs” are not fulfilled, which in turn cuts off any possibility of reaching “self actualization.” Both essays agree on the fact that the environment has continuously shaped people’s behavior; however, one must deduce that “self-actualization” can never be established, because one's environment is ever changing: all modifications to the individual are fleeting.
Before understanding why Maslow’s idea of “self-actualization” could never occur, we have to see how the environment has affected people. In Gladwell’s essay, the psychological hypothesis of the “Broken Window theory” is brought in to support himself. Gladwell explains: “If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken…sending a signal that anything goes” (Gladwell 182). So too, crime is like a virus, once the disease is spread, the world is endangered. In other words, the environment has been “sending a signal” that because it has become corrupted, so to, people have every right to be corrupt. “Crime is contagious-just as a fashion trend is contagious-that it can start with a “broken window” and spread to an entire community” (Gladwell 182). This makes it obvious to see how the environment’s negative influence spreads to people as a virus spreads from cell to cell. Just as Gladwell understands the environment to be an influential factor in shaping a person, so does Abram. However, Abram understands that the environment that shapes the individual has a positive influence. When Abram traveled overseas to the East, his understanding of the world changed because of the new environment he was placed in. While sitting in a cave one day, he watched a spider spinning a web: “I had the distinct impression that I was watching the universe being born, galaxy upon galaxy…I have never, since that time been able to encounter a spider without feeling a great strangeness and awe” (Abram 14). Never before was he able to have this deep appreciation of life until he was placed in an environment that shaped that ideology for him. According to Abram, the environment creates a positive influence on people as it did so for him, which promoted a “self actualized” identity in a spiritual or emotional sense. These two authors make it clear to see how the environment has such a great influence on shaping a person. However, they both understand the environments influence to affect them in different ways.
Nevertheless, we need to take a step further to see how the environment shapes people in creating a “self actualized” identity according to Abram, and not being able to create that identity according to Gladwell. In psychology, according to Abrham Maslow, satisfying the “hierarchy of needs” helps a person acquire a “self actualized” identity. The most fundamental needs for a person to start his or her journey up the ladder of needs are the “deficiency needs.” “Deficiency needs” are the physiological needs a person requires in order to grow. Examples of these consist of food, water, shelter, and warmth. If some of these needs are not available to a person, he or she cannot continue up the ladder of becoming “self-actualized.” Abram discusses how people “are well acquainted with the needs and capacities of the human body…and by watching animals build their nests and shelters, we glean clues regarding how to strengthen our own dwelling” (Abram 10). According to Abram, people learn to fulfill their physiological needs by observing their surrounding environment. In opposition, Gladwell states that the environment is at fault for a dearth of physiological necessities. Gladwell explains the Zimbardo experiment: the prisoners “were stripped and given a prison uniform…that was to serve as their only means of identification” (Gladwell 188). Gladwell points out that the environment these people were placed in had literally “stripped” away their physiological requirements. According to the “Hierarchy of Needs,” “deficiency needs” must be acquired in order for one to achieve “self- actualization,” as they are fulfilled in Abram’s world. It is clear that certain physiological needs are not being fulfilled in Gladwell’s examples; therefore, “self-actualization” can never be established. The root of the problem begins with a lack of physical needs, which essentially disables psychological development.
Moreover, as a result of the physiological needs not being met, people are not able to develop psychologically. The group in Gladwell’s essay are considered to have “a personality type [that is] distinguished by an insensitivity to the norms of normal society. People with stunted psychological development do not understand how to conduct healthy relationships” (Gladwell 187). Here, Gladwell shows that deprivation of physiological needs triggers psychological malfunctions. On the other hand, the world depicted in Abram’s essay portrays how physiological needs are fulfilled, so in turn, psychological development is inevitable. Abram explains: “human society and the larger society of beings is balanced and reciprocal, and that the village never takes more from the land that it returns to it- not just materially but with prayers, propitiations, and praise” (Abram 5). In other words, because people acquire physiological needs, they have the psychological ability to create a profound relationship with the land; therefore, these people are creating a “self -- actualized” identity. The individuals portrayed by Abram are able to become “self actualized” because of their fulfillment of their physiological needs; however, the people in Gladwell’s world cannot, because their physiological needs are not met.
A domino effect has been created in both Abram and Gladwell’s worlds. Because Abram’s environment provided him with physiological needs, he was able to move onto developing the psychological needs necessary to becoming “self-actualized,” while Gladwell’s environment was “stripped” of its physiological needs, demoting any further development. It may sound extreme to say that because physiological needs were not met people cannot establish “self-actualization,” but modifications in an identity or environment cannot be fleeting or ignored. Gladwell writes, “For a crime to be committed, something extra, something additional, has to happen to tip a troubled person towards violence, and what the Power of Context is saying is that those tipping points may be as simple and trivial as everyday disorders like graffiti and fare-beating” (Gladwell 192). In other words, it is clear to see that ignoring minor modifications in society can have detrimental effects on people and on the environment. This will immobilize people from ever achieving Maslow’s concept of “self-actualization.” A similar idea is also made clear in Abram’s text. Although he climbed up the ladder and achieved the most crucial steps of Maslow's “hierarchy of needs,” on his way to become “self actualized,” he was not able to sustain that identity because his modified identity was not permanent. Once he returned to the West, back to a new environment, he changed because he ignored the importance of adjusting his new identity into his new life: “I could no longer focus my awareness on engaging in their world as I so easily done a few weeks earlier, for my attention was quickly deflected by internal, verbal deliberations of one sort or another --by a conversation I now seemed to carry on entirely within myself” (Abram 19). In other words, Abram begins to forge a new identity of “self-actualization” but eventually loses it upon returning home to America. Regardless of his physiological and psychological needs being fulfilled, did not sustain those altercations with in his new identity, which created a collapse in becoming “self-actualized.” Although Abram believed the environment had a positive effect on him, allowing him to create a “self-actualized” identity, he essentially contradicted himself. According to Abraham Maslow, a “self actualized” person has the intellectual ability to sustain his or her beliefs, and Abram’s experience makes it clear that he could not accomplish that. These two authors make it clear to see how no modification can be fleeting or overlooked because the environment has such a great influence on shaping a person.
Essentially, their essay’s make it clear to see how detrimental the effects of the environment have on people. Unfortunately, the environment has set up a system where people can never become “self-actualized.” Gladwell’s essay makes that clear to see that people’s needs were not fulfilled because the environment created malnourishment. However, regardless of the deficiency needs that were fulfilled by Abram, being placed in a new environment, that he thought was beneficial at first, resulted with losing that “self-actualized” identity he had tried so hard to fulfill. The environment has taken us far enough, but in the end it is up to us to have self control to modify our behavior to see beyond the influences the environment gives and deciding for ourselves, something Gladwell and Abram’s essay’s both show us was not the done. Essentially, what we really need to do is “actualize” our context and environment in order to work beneficially toward our favor. Having an “actualized society,” rather than “self-actualization is what our world actually needs.

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This article has 1 comment.

Akff443 said...
on Jul. 28 2011 at 12:35 pm
Akff443, Chicago, Illinois
0 articles 0 photos 5 comments
It's really, a good article, really it is. Only, having it not divided into paragraphs makes it somewhat hard to read, and easy to lose your place.


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