Our needs seen through a Jesuit lens

Wyatt Massey
Feb 7, 2016 · 3 min read

Maslow’s Hierarchy interpreted in terms of faith, fulfillment

Photo via Marquette University

Note: This post is part of #PublishEveryDay, a writing challenge I am doing to publish seven blog posts in seven days. I asked the social media sphere for writing prompts. Today’s question comes courtesy of Courtney Guc.

What would Maslow’s Hierarchy look like from a Jesuit lens? Can men and women without security, food or clothing still experience shame or self-actualization?

In the dining area of a free meal program, my poverty become glaringly apparent. My wallet had a debit card and cash. Still impoverished. I wore a pair of Levi’s jeans. Still impoverished. My fridge was full of food. Still impoverished. That night, I would sleep in a warm bed with a roof over my head. Still impoverished.

Calling myself impoverished is not a guilt-driven denial of my privilege. I have been blessed by material affluence my entire life. Considering that more than 2.1 billion people in the developing world live on less than $3.10 a day, I am insanely rich.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Photo via Simply Psychology)

Analyzing my life using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I have reached the level of self-actualization. According to this framework, a person cannot reach the next level of growth until the needs of the one below have been fulfilled. For example, a person cannot address her or his need for love and belonging if the safety and physiological needs are unmet.

My life has ample food and water. Physiological needs: Check. I have a home that is warm, safe and secure. Safety needs: Check. My friends and family are caring and thoughtful. Loving and belonging needs: Check. I would like to think that I respect myself and others. Esteem needs: Check. This leaves me with the opportunity to self-actualize and seek personal fulfillment.

So, why did I consider myself impoverished? Those mornings at the free meal program brought me face-to-face with members of Milwaukee’s homeless community who carried an unrivaled faith in the love and kindness of God. I did not carry those beautiful beliefs. I just carried things.

Poverty can be as much spiritual as material. As I began to tell the stories of people who experienced homelessness for “Our Home: Milwaukee,” I realized that the journey to self-actualization and spiritual growth is not a ladder by a series of trails. Some of us get to choose our path — Our socioeconomic standing gives us that freedom — while others have limited routes. Regardless, the route to self-fulfillment is achievable to all. While I was materially rich, I was spiritually impoverished. The friends I made over countless mornings embodied the opposite situation.

A person does not need a bounty of stuff to be rich. All of my belongings, all this stuff in my life that makes me “rich,” keep me from realizing that none of it is really mine. None of it, in the end, will really matter either. As Sister Peggy O’Neill said in her 2015 commencement address at Marquette University, “You never see a U-haul behind a hearse.”

Women and men without security, food or clothing can experience self-actualization and they can, of course, experience shame. A Jesuit lens on Maslow’s Hierarchy shows that there is no single path to fulfillment, just as there is not a single path to God. Instead, there are many routes, but all hold the same purpose — Discovering our purpose and living it out each day.

Wyatt Massey

Written by

Human rights journalist.

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