What matters more, and less

GLIMPSES
By Jose Ma. Montelibano

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Whether we like it or not, life respects rank. Everything is ranked, and we live life according to how things are ranked. There are instances when we have more options, when we actually have the time to do this or that, when rankings are not so demanding. But there are the opposite, too, when the rankings are forced, almost routine, when it seems we have no choice but to keep on doing what we always do. In hindsight, in truth, our lives are led with less freedom than we imagine, and really much more by simple habit.

Life is not just very personal, it also is very national. We have habits as a person, and we have habits as a people – and these habits rule more of our lives than our freedom. After all, our being human includes our being physical, and our physicality can be a serious limitation. Life sums it up quite simple with the saying, “We have to eat, you know.” This is a forced ranking, that we have to take care of our physical needs first. To some, this is easy. To many others, this is what life mostly is all about. When one is born poor in the Philippines, survival is all that matters.

From the bottom of the totem pole, there is a long way to climb. The bottom is not the lowest, it is the most important. Only by taking care of it can the rest of the totem pole find opportunity for discovery. In other words, if our physicality needs urgent attention, we can be disabled from pursuing other interests. When we are hungry, when we are sick, all else matters little. Yes, life can force us to rank things not as we like it but just as it is.

More than 70 years ago, an American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, put out a theory that man’s life was predicated on a hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy does not give man any leeway at the bottom because we are either alive or we have nothing to talk about here. Maslow’s theory was not very sophisticated but it was, and is, very meaningful in its simplicity. Many more intricate intellectual works have come out since then but not to contradict, only to refine. That is how sound and solid Maslow’s fundamental principles and perspective are. Under another name, or under no name, Maslow saw how firmly we follow how life ranks what matters more, and less.

I believe that the equivalent of what Maslow taught should be a required subject matter in our educational curriculum. And its more sophisticated part, its national application, a required understanding of all public officials, elected or appointed. It seems that bad governance can be largely traced to the fact that national priorities are not in sync with our personal hierarchy of needs. When leadership at different levels forgets or confuses itself with what matters more, or less, there will be forced consequences. How else will a hierarchy of needs be respected and followed without attendant penalties for its violations?

Why else would the Philippines, naturally blessed with a biodiversity that is one of the most outstanding in the planet, not be one of the richest economy as well? Why else would the people of the Philippines not have one of the highest per capita income in the world? Because our natural resources, our human resources, have not been applied to how life ranks the needs in our lives, the consequences are obvious and painful. Tens of millions remain dirt poor, half of them still experiencing hunger, and a large chunk of the population have to suffer family separation just to get out of their most horrible poverty. There is a horrible disconnect between what a country has and what its people have. Some have called it the imbalance of wealth distribution. I say it is more the imbalance of power when 1% can own more than 99%. I say it is the continuing dominance of centralized power and the continuing struggle to understand what freedom and democracy truly mean.

Before Abraham Maslow was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The persistent poverty of Filipinos is an indictment of power, and even the proliferation of illegal drugs is one of its consequences. When we do not take care of our own, then our own must find ways to take care to their needs, by fight, by flight, or by paralysis. When the application of power does not understand, or respect, man’s hierarchy of needs, the allocation of resources will be serious imbalanced. And so will be the well-being of the great number of victims to this serious imbalance.

Poverty hurts. Drugs hurt. The killings hurt, too, but so should the unimaginable number of deaths that poverty has caused, the untimely, premature, and unnecessary deaths from the sustained suffering of the poor. It seems many are shocked when the killings are sudden and bloody, but less care when lives are pre-terminated by hunger, malnutrition, sickness and the lack of other basic needs. I have heard the outcry against drug-related killings and I understand how killings go against the very grain of our humanity. If we match that outcry with a louder one, against the inhumanity of poverty, against the imbalance of power and resources, we create a louder voice and become a stronger force for change.

Meanwhile, those who understand the principle of life and choose to manipulate it for their own advantage, as many have done for millennia, will continue to rule the world. Their names and faces change but their methodologies persist through time. And human suffering, too. But a new page has turned to give all of us blank spaces on which we will write new chapters in our story. May courage and kindness matter more, and everything else less.

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One Response. Have your say.

  1. Sluggo Rigor says:

    Another wisdom-laden piece! Thanks for such elegance of truth, Mr Montelibano. Please keep writing! Your pen generates deep feelings and thoughts.

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