The Legacy of Abraham Maslow

When discussing legacy, it isn’t the lifetime of the human being that counts. What does count is what their lifetime stood for, and what they left behind for humanity. Abraham Maslow was born as the elder son of Jewish Immigrants, in 1908. His parents aspirations for the child took him on a voyage of discovery that would affect human happiness and the many layers of tangible needs that go into contributing to and attaining self actualization.

When you look at the lives of men such as these, many come from humble beginnings, many were loners that hid behind the covers of books during childhood, and Abraham Maslow was no exception. It is hardly surprising therefore that what he sought out in his studies was answers as to how a human being can fulfill potential, basing his studies on the needs that surround the existence of every human life.

Little did the man know just how far reaching those studies would be, dismissed or criticized by some for what were perceived as lack of substantial evidence, those very same theories are put into play in an individual’s life every day that they live and breath. The unfortunate part of the substantiation of his theories was that the chosen group of people to whom the theories were applied were not average people, but were those that he defined as self actualizers.

Although Maslow was a well known humanist, what many people who do not work in the psychology field may be unaware of was that his work continued well after his death in 1970, as he wished it to, and based on his findings, the amount of self help available to everyone has increased to such an extent that most lives will be touched by his findings during the course of maturing and development.

The idea was that many human beings do not reach their potential. He worked out the levels of human needs and classified them, using demonstration that was logical and sensible to define need. Physiological need takes on ease of understanding when you take, for example, someone who has been in the desert without food and water. When offered sustenance, they will opt for water every time, because their physiological need is for water. Where the body can function without food for longer periods of time, it cannot operate without water. These needs are built into who every human being is, and there is nothing we can do except to ensure that our physiological needs are met. These are the foundation stones of our life. Without sustenance, everything else fails.

Taking human needs a step further, the next need that was studied was the need for safety. To a great extent, the animal instinct of wanting to protect comes into play, and without adequate safety and security, those first bricks in the wall of life may just as well be formed of sand. It follows that those with security or safety hazards in their lives will never achieve their potential unless those risk factors are removed.

The next layer of needs is a social one, and that of belonging. Here, I feel that Maslow placed great emphasis on an area he knew about from his own roots. A sense of belonging matters not just in society, but in relationships, friendships and every aspect of our personal lives. Take away the belonging factor, and you alter the perception of the next layer down, that of security. Each need is individually defined but holds the whole equation together.

Esteem was the next layer that he looked at and without self esteem, we will naturally lose the belonging aspect, the security aspect and will possibly not even feed the physiological needs of our body, so how can we ever achieve that next step towards fulfillment ? It’s a clever diagram of how human beings react to given circumstance and these layers form the basis of finding that illusive self realization and happiness.

Taking this premise a step further, he developed a series of human needs that can be explored in an attempt to strengthen each of the layers described above, and what he may not have known when he thought out his methods of self improvement was that self help books, sometimes without even realizing the significance of his work, would go on to reinforce positives to replace negatives, making the foundation of needs within the human mind happy and content.


A series of metaneeds was developed that Maslow believed would improve the quality of a life. These included:

Truth and the replacement of lies.
Goodness as opposed to sin
Beauty as opposed to vulgarity
Unity and wholeness as opposed to being at odds with life
Uniqueness as opposed to uniformity
Aliveness as opposed to mechanization
Completion as opposed to incompleteness.

So the list goes on. There were many other instances, though what he was suggesting is that if a human being deals with their negative needs and turns them to positive ones, the foundation upon which their lives are built are stronger, and cope with the essential needs as well as allowing an element of actualization beyond those basic needs.

It works very well, and self help books that show human beings how to build up defenses by replacement of negatives by positives are following his lead in reinforcing that human beings don’t live to their full potential simply because they do not take care of the basic need structure that is required to find happiness and to grow into a human that can develop further than just the basics. The legacy that Maslow left behind him gave hope to those without hope, help to those who considered themselves beyond help, and simplified the process of putting needs into perspective.

At the top of the foundation he built of needs stands a single point, and if you imagine a triangle, the top point of that triangle is what he describes as human potential or self actualization. With a foundation of :

*Physiological needs
*Security needs
*Social needs
*Esteem needs

the human being is able to take that step forward into the realms of discovering their own potential by ensuring that the bricks that form the wall upon which the foundations of character stand are solid and the needs met.

Simple, effective, and a legacy to a man who thought in complex ways to give logical conclusion that works. What better legacy could a man hope to achieve ?

Sources: Religions, Values and Peak Experiences, by Abraham Maslow applied to life.