Brooklyn, New York
Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist noted for his conceptualization of a “hierarchy of human needs”—today he is considered the founder of humanistic psychology. Born into an uneducated family of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Maslow was raised in Brooklyn as the eldest of seven children. Reportedly he was slow and tidy as a youth, spending his time in libraries and among books, and largely without friends.
Maslow was encouraged to actively pursue an education: after initially studying law at the City College of New York, he transferred to Cornell University in 1927, and then on to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin where he entered the field of psychology (pursuing an original line of research in the investigation of primate dominance behavior and sexuality). He went on to further research at Columbia University, where he was mentored by Alfred Adler, one of Sigmund Freud’s early followers. From 1937 to 1951 Maslow served on the faculty of Brooklyn College, where he blossomed under the mentorship of anthropologist Ruth Benedict and Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer—these two were so accomplished and such “wonderful human beings,” that Maslow began taking notes about them and their behavior (most psychology before Maslow had been concerned with the abnormal and the ill—he turned the tables and concentrated on observing the healthy). This inspired shift in focus became the basis of his lifelong research and thinking about mental health and human potential, which he wrote about extensively.
Simply put, Maslow saw the needs of human beings arranged like a ladder (ergo, his pyramidal Hierarchy of Needs). The most basic needs, at the bottom, were physical. Then came safety needs, followed by psychological or social needs, then esteem needs, and at the top, the self-actualizing needs of self-fulfillment—“to become all that one is capable of becoming.” Maslow felt that unfulfilled needs lower on the ladder would actually inhibit a person from climbing to the next step (proof of concept: someone dying of thirst quickly forgets their thirst when they have no oxygen).
We celebrate Maslow today for his surprisingly original thinking, and for changing the way that modern-day physiologists understand the world. Without his creative mind and critical circumspection, humanistic psychology would certainly not have become what it is today. You rock, Abraham!
Here are some of my favorite “quotables” by Maslow:
+ + +
Every really new idea looks crazy at first.
All the evidence that we have indicates that it is reasonable to assume in practically every human being, and certainly in almost every newborn baby, that there is an active will toward health, an impulse towards growth, or towards self actualization.
A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he (or she) is to be ultimately at peace with himself (or herself).
If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.
We are not in a position in which we have nothing to work with. We already have capacities, talents, direction, missions, callings.
One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king.
Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.
He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.
A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.
I was awfully curious to find out why I didn’t go insane.
I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.
The fact is that people are good. Give people affection and security, and they will give affection and be secure in their feelings and their behavior.
It seems that the necessary thing to do is not to fear mistakes, to plunge in, to do the best that one can, hoping to learn enough from blunders to correct them eventually.
The sacred is in the ordinary, in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard.
We fear to know the fearsome and unsavory aspects of ourselves, but we fear even more to know the godlike in ourselves.
You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.