Summary: We draw meaning from the stuff we collect.How Jesus turned Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Human Needs” pyramid upside-down and flattened it with a single statement: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
We live in a pretty materialistic culture; we tend to confuse purpose or meaning in life with success. And we tend to confuse success with the accumulation of material possessions. The more stuff we have, the more successful we must be. The more successful we are the more purpose or meaning our lives must have. We draw meaning from the stuff we collect.
It’s not all our fault. Our need to collect stuff has its roots in the most basic of our survival instincts. Upon ejection from the garden, Adam and Eve figured out real quick that without food and protection from the elements they would die. Food and protection from the elements are the most basic of human needs; necessary for survival.
Once our ancestors garnered enough food, clothing and shelter to satisfy their immediate needs they began to squirrel away a little extra, for a rainy day. And the habit of collecting stuff was established.
After we had collected enough food, clothing and shelter to take the edge off, other needs began to pop up. According to psychology guru Abraham Maslow, when we satisfy our most basic human needs we move toward fulfilling other needs, such as the need for safety and security, love, esteem, and self-actualization. He illustrated the progression of human needs as a pyramid. Food and protection from the elements were on the bottom of the pyramid, safety and security came next, then the need for love and acceptance, then esteem and recognition. At the top of the pyramid was our need for self-actualization. Thanks to Maslow, we have the humanist version of meaning, purpose and success in a nutshell … or at least, in a pyramid.
Maslow believed that once a person’s basic needs for air, water, food and shelter were met, he or she could move on to the next level of human need, which was safety. Safety, in human culture was provided by the group - the tribe. As civilization progressed this became the state or the government. The tribe protected us from wild animals and other marauding tribes; the government protects us from criminals and other marauding governments.
Once our safety needs have been met, according to Maslow, we seek to satisfy our love or belonging needs; the need for friendship, family and sexual intimacy. Once those have been met we move on to satisfy our need for esteem; the need to be recognized by ourselves and others as important. We want self-respect and the respect of the community.
When our esteem needs have been met we’re able to climb to the uppermost level of the human needs pyramid – the need for self-actualization. Self-actualization, the peak of human needs fulfillment, is manifest by our developing a sense of morality, creativity and spontaneity; forgetting our prejudices and accepting the truth about how things are.
According to Maslow, we have to work our way up to self-actualization. We can’t address issues like morality, beauty, justice and truth until we’ve met our more basic needs, like being fed, clothed, loved and esteemed by others.