Where Beauty Is (or) How to Get Up Maslow’s Hierarchy

I struggle with the concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy, because I fear I cannot get to the top where beauty lives. I worry that I will forever be stuck in survival mode, which happens to be the bottom of the heap. The place where the rat race is run, I suppose.

Here’s a link on what Maslow came up with. It actually makes sense.

Maslow was studying what motivated people, and he determined that if the basic needs weren’t met, like food, shelter, warmth, sex, and so forth, then no one could move on up on the hierarchy because they’re too busy trying to feed and cover themselves. How can one consider beautiful things when one simply needs to eat? I understand. On most days, after hard physical work outside all day, I know the only thing I am thinking of is food. While my friends are considering what to have for Thanksgiving dinner, and scouring blogs and Pinterest for table setting ideas, I’m heading to Cracker Barrel after work, and eating like it’s an all-you-can-eat joint. And, yes, I’d like tea and lemonade, not mixed, I mean one glass of each, please. My friends are mortified to eat with me, while I wipe the plate clean, pruning shears still on my belt, and order desert. They are kind enough to go anyway, though, and for that, I give them plants. And, if you’re wondering, yes, I’ll probably be at Cracker Barrel for Thanksgiving. Beats cooking on your day off.

At the very top of the pyramid is the level Maslow calls self-actualization. Put simply, it is the place where your deepest creative abilities can be expressed, or you can most fully express yourself. It is home to creativity and spontaneity. Down in the dungeons of basic needs, self-actualization would be a luxury. It’s something we might think of in our spare five minutes before church on Sunday. But on a daily basis, if the hunter is to eat, he must hunt. As my boss is famous for saying, and I for quoting him, “Those who are hungry work the hardest.”

Yet, my heart aches for the top tier. I have no desire to climb the corporate ladder, but I do want to skip over levels 2-4 (safety, love, esteem) and leap into beauty’s arms. I want to create something beautiful. I have no idea what. Perhaps if I ever get past all these dang levels, I’ll figure that out. But, like the girl on The Paradise is always saying, “I don’t want to love Moray, I want to be Moray.” (If you haven’t seen the PBS show, you won’t get the connection.)

An old friend from high school is a photographer, and I find myself often studying his pictures. How does a person, using a camera, create beauty? I’m sure that question opens up a whole can of worms, and blog posts from shutter geeks, but I study the pictures and wonder, could I do that? I seem to be on the search for beauty, and how to create it with my own hands, like a little girl with a brand new box of 64 Crayola Crayons. Surely, with that many colors, exactly the same height and sharpness, one could create something? But, like that little girl, there is much excitement over the tools, but little vision.

Maslow’s hierarchy doesn’t mention vision, but I wonder where it fits on the tiered pyramid.

How many folks driving home tonight through the forest of subdivision sameness are searching for a vision? A vision that will leap-frog them off the ash-heap of life, and up to the tower of self-actualization? How many blue-collar-white-collar-any-collar workers are driving home with that same feeling in their gut–there must be more than just this? In Maslow’s world there is, and though I realize his theories have been supplanted by others since 1943 (or thereabouts for when he wrote the paper on human motivation), I think the pyramid that followed his theory, resonates with most people because it is simply true. If bills must be paid, then I am working to pay them, not creating beautiful things. If safety is not secured (i.e. my employment is always fluctuating, or I live in a crummy part of town) then I am focused on creating a safe environment for myself. If I lack community, then establishing a community base is my focus. Once these things are in order, then I can create and in the process become self-actualized–if I am not dead already.

What is my point? Yes, you’re thinking, what is it?

Maslow’s heirarchy is missing God. It adds religion and morality, but lacks a personal relationship with the creator of the universe and oneself. Like the Tower of Babel, the climb up is motivated by a desire to understand and know ourselves better, but not necessarily to know God better. Maybe the self-actualization process is to find our own glory? And, therein lies the key to this dilemma.

Once, prior to becoming a Christian, a friend (who was a Christian) made the comment to me that we could do not do “it” (whatever the it of the moment was) without God. I understood the truth of that statement and have since known that all my endeavors must be guided by and entrusted to the One who has given me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). So, if it is beauty I desire, and beauty I long to create, it matters not which tier I camp on, because God camps on them all.

In my job I see gardens that cost thousands to install, but sometimes I am honored to see a garden that cost nothing to install, yet like my friend and his camera, have captured beauty in a simple pot of begonias or hanging basket. Maslow must not have read 1 Corinthians Chapter One, where God tells us that he will make the foolish wise and the wise foolish. I take that to mean he can flip Maslow’s pyramid on its head and bring beauty forth from working hands and self-actualization to my garbage man (who, by the way, is always singing). So, I’ll not despair that the bottom rung seems so very far from beauty, but will look to my Lord and Savior and ask, where does beauty reside today, Lord?