↑ Return to Philosophy


by Dr. C. George BoereeABRAHAM MASLOW 1908-1970

He began by picking out a group of people, some historical figures, some people he knew, whom he felt clearly met the standard of self-actualization. Included in this august group were people like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, William James, Benedict Spinoza, and others. He then looked at their biographies, writings, the acts and words of those he knew personally, and so on. From these sources, he developed a list of qualities that seemed characteristic of these people, as opposed to the great mass of us. 

These people were reality-centered, which means they could differentiate what is fake and dishonest from what is real and genuine. They were problem-centered, meaning they treated life’s difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be railed at or surrendered to. And they had a different perception of means and ends. They felt that the ends don’t necessarily justify the means, that the means could be ends themselves, and that the means — the journey — was often more important than the ends.

The self-actualizers also had a different way of relating to others. First, they had a need for privacy, and were comfortable being alone. They were relatively independent of culture and environment, relying instead on their own experiences and judgments. And they resisted enculturation, that is, they were not susceptible to social pressure — they were, in fact, nonconformists in the best sense.

Further, they had what Maslow called democratic values, meaning that they were open to ethnic and individual variety, even treasuring it. They had the quality called Gemeinschaftsgefühl — social interest, compassion, humanity. And they enjoyed intimate personal relations with a few close friends and family members, rather than more shallow relationships with many people.

They had an unhostile sense of humorpreferring to joke at their own expense, or at the human condition, and never directing their humor at others. They had a quality he called acceptance of self and others, by which he meant that these people would be more likely to take you as you are than try to change you into what they thought you should be. This same acceptance applied to their attitudes towards themselves: If some quality of theirs wasn’t harmful, they let it be, even enjoying it as a personal quirk. Along with this comes spontaneity and simplicity: They preferred being themselves rather than being pretentious or artificial. In fact, for all their nonconformity, he found that they tended to be conventional on the surface, just where less self-actualizing nonconformists tend to be the most dramatic.

And these people had a certain freshness of appreciation, an ability to see things, even ordinary things, with wonder. Along with this comes their ability to be creative, inventive, and original. And, finally, these people tended to have more peak experiences than the average person. A peak experience is one that takes you out of yourself, that makes you feel very tiny, or very large, to some extent one with life or nature or God. It gives you a feeling of being a part of the infinite and the eternal. These experiences tend to leave their mark on a person, change them for the better, and many people actively seek them out. They are also called mystical experiences, and are an important part of many religious and philosophical traditions.

Maslow doesn’t think that self-actualizers are perfect, of course. There were several flaws or imperfections he discovered along the way as well: First, they often suffered considerable anxiety and guilt — but realistic anxiety and guilt, rather than misplaced or neurotic versions. Some of them were absentminded and overly kind. And finally, some of them had unexpected moments of ruthlessness, surgical coldness, and loss of humor.

Metaneeds and metapathologies

Another way in which Maslow approach the problem of what is self-actualization is to talk about the special, driving needs (B-needs, of course) of the self-actualizers. They need the following in their lives in order to be happy:

Truth, rather than dishonesty.
Goodness, rather than evil.
Beauty, not ugliness or vulgarity.
Unity, wholeness, and transcendence of opposites, not arbitrariness or forced choices.
Aliveness, not deadness or the mechanization of life.
Uniqueness, not bland uniformity.
Perfection and necessity, not sloppiness, inconsistency, or accident.
Completion, rather than incompleteness.
Justice and order, not injustice and lawlessness.
Simplicity, not unnecessary complexity.
Richness, not environmental impoverishment.
Effortlessness, not strain.
Playfulness, not grim, humorless, drudgery.
Self-sufficiency, not dependency.
Meaningfulness, rather than senselessness.

this did for my booski bear