Abraham Maslow and Inner Nature

Abraham Maslow and Inner Nature

“…do what you must do, Rudy.”

abraham maslow

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who was perhaps best known for his work “Toward a Psychology of Being”. In it Maslow contends that humans have a core, an “inner nature” that is essentially good. That’s why I like him; he’s lite, airy, upbeat, and positive; he provides we mis-directed underachievers with hope. He believes that to the extent we access and use the qualities that comprise our inner nature we will be productive and happy. Following is my interpretation of Maslow’s teachings on this subject.

abraham maslowAll living things are compelled to become something, to do what they must do. Its mission may be as simple as dividing in order to reproduce an exact duplicate of itself or as complex as “self actualizing”; or to paraphrase the US Army, “being all it can be.”

The organism’s mission is mandated to varying extents by both its DNA and environmental influences. For example, an amoeba’s mission is to nourish and duplicate itself; being a single celled organism is relatively uncomplicated. It knows how to accomplish its mission strictly by virtue of its genetic coding. While environmental conditions may affect its efficiency the mission itself does not change and has not for millions of years.

As the organism becomes more complex the environmental aspect becomes more influential in how it accomplishes its mission, though the mission itself may not be much different than the amoeba’s. A red tail hawk, a rhesus monkey and a timber wolf all nourish themselves in order to propagate their species. But in order to stay alive long enough to mate they all had to learn survival skills from the more experienced members of their breed’s environmental skills.

Another characteristic of organic complexity is the balance between instinct and intellect.

Most of a hawk’s behavior is driven by hard-wired neurological associations that have been refined and passed down through thousand of generations that preceded him. (I say most, because I cannot say with certainty whether or not a hawk can think.)

abraham maslow inner natureMost of my dog Karl’s behavior is driven by instinct, though I believe less than that of a hawk. Due to my training some of that instinct has been altered by the application of what I must call intellectual conditioning. Karl has a strong instinct to find and point game birds. And it is instinctive for him to attack them after a brief point. I have honed that instinct to serve me by training him to hold his point until I arrive with my gun.

At the far end of the complexity spectrum is the human being. Our DNA contributes to defining our mission too, but much more of what directs our actions is learned rather than instinctive. Which side of your brain is most effectively used is likely genetically encoded; how you use your brain is learned. I can learn to be optimistic or pessimistic, confident or plagued by self doubt, aggressive or passive, carefree or cautious. While these learned character traits might affect how I approach my job they will not change the fact that I am predisposed to engineering as a career and that my happiness lies in utilizing that predisposition.

The influence of our accumulated life experiences steers us in particular directions and points to solutions to our needs to feel safe, secure and happy. This combination of inherited and accumulated behavior drivers is what psychologist Abraham Maslow called “inner nature”.

Inner nature is a blueprint for growth.

abraham maslowInside that little acorn (yes, overused but effective metaphor ahead) are all the instructions it needs to accomplish its mission, to become a perfect oak tree. And the degree to which those instructions are followed will determine the mission’s success. The blueprint is demanding; it calls for specific amounts of chemically correct water, certain nutrients and the right amount of light, heat and cold. And even if all of those elements essential to the acorn’s “success” fall into place, the growing tree must survive the attacks of pests, natural disaster and of course, man. But without following the instructions, the acorn’s inner nature, there is no chance for successful growth.

“Growth” is a term that gets bandied about quite a bit in self-help circles, specifically “personal growth”; what does it mean? When we read books or hang out on websites like this in order to “grow”, what is it we’re really hoping to accomplish? One thing I’m sure of; in most cases it has nothing to do with getting bigger! I believe most of us who study this stuff are attempting to become a happier person, pure and simple. So here’s my definition, and I think that Maslow would approve:

“Personal growth is the process of becoming more and more of who we really are.”

And I believe that as we accomplish this growth, as we become “more of who we really are”, the happier we will be. Who we really are=inner nature. Make sense?

Did my desire to write and take photographs come to me by virtue of my parents’ genes or did I learn to love those things as an impressionable youth? No influential person in my life ever composed more than a “Thank You” note and the cameras in my household were for taking pictures, not making photographs. I have two older brothers who are creatively inclined, one of whom is retired and spends considerable time writing and taking photographs. If my experience is representative of humanity in general there appears to be a strong case for the importance of genetics in the formation of one’s inner nature.

abraham maslowIf following our inner nature is the road to happiness, and if happiness is all we really want in life, why do writer/photographers spend their lives trying to sell things to people? Wouldn’t that be akin to asking Karl the pointer to herd sheep or dance abraham maslowon his hind legs while wearing a tutu? While I assure you that Karl is smart enough to learn either of these tasks, if he were required to forgo bird hunting in order to perform them he would be a far less happy dog than he is now. Likewise, I have it on good authority that attempting to slide a salesman’s slipper onto the foot of a writer is a disservice not only to the writer but to his sales manager and the customers he serves as well.

So why, when our gut reminds us repeatedly of our folly, do we attempt to endure jobs, relationships and personal identities that lead us to a pot filled not with gold, but with guilt, disappointment, self betrayal and unhappiness? Jeez; even an acorn is smart enough to know better than to try to grow up to be a maple tree!

But an acorn does not have oak trees and other acorns trying to convince it that its own needs would be better served if it were to strive to be something other than what it is. It does not have free will, the ability to make choices that are contrary to its own best interests. Nor is it capable of feeling the fear of disappointing a loved one or making a mistake. An acorn knows nothing of status or prestige. An acorn is blissfully ignorant with only one task in life–to become a great oak tree.

Unfortunately, it appears that a payoff for the acorn’s blissful ignorance is that it cannot, in fact, experience bliss.

Nor can it experience sadness or anger or love or happiness or any of the other emotions that make the ups and downs of life as a human so interesting and potentially rewarding. You and I can and do experience these emotions and with some attention and effort we will have more ups than downs. The ups will be telling us that we’re on the right road, the one that is paved with the elements of our inner nature and leads to our own bliss, one of which we are acutely aware. Thank you, Abraham Maslow, for the intriguing insights!

If you’ve enjoyed this topic I recommend you read Maslow’s Own Words On Inner Nature.  

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