According to Maslow, to attain the
pinnacle of self-actualization, the fundamental needs of an individual should
be achieved, viz his physiological needs at the base, then scaling up to
safety, love or belonging and self-esteem as one moves up the pyramid.
However, applying his theory in the context of the Asian society, where I
have had most of my teaching experience, brings out some basic
Firstly, the theory may work well
from a Western perspective but in Asian societies the realities are quite
different. In the South East Asian countries where the concept of familial
affiliations trumps individual aspirations, the pyramid seems to show cracks.
Self actualization is not a priority and people in Asia weigh in more to
group-think such as meeting the needs of a religious cult, caste or even to a
large communal family. Here, the needs of the group rather than any
particular individual in the group are more important. Students may have
concerns about satisfying expectations of their family needs or religious /
caste requirements and this emotional baggage represents a blurring of lines
between safety of being part of the group or a sense of love and belonging,
which can be achieved by adhering to their group’s needs rather than striving
for actualization. In essence in most Asian societies the top of the pyramid
is virtually non-existent, but is rather replaced by an overlap of safety and
love that comes from meeting the desires of the group at large.
Secondly, Maslow’s assumptions were
too simplistic to be applied to the complexities that exist in Middle Eastern
cultures. Most of the Gulf states being monarchical tend to pamper their
peoples by giving them perks which citizens of democratic countries would
never be able to dream of. Apart from heavily subsidized food and utilities,
citizens enjoy free housing, education and highly paid government jobs that
render them in no need for self-actualization. Most individuals live a happy
and lazy life, with zero motivation to achieve anything more than to sustain
their luxurious lives by supporting their governments. Maslow’s law just
doesn’t account for societies such as these.
Finally, Maslow’s assumption that
lower needs must be met for a person to reach full potential and self-actualize
does not hold well under all circumstances. In the poorer sections of the
Asian rural areas, where the economy is still agrarian, farmers are
self-actualized to meet their basic needs. The pyramid is more or less flat.
These people work hard to meet their essential food requirements and find
safety and love in their meagre living conditions. The definition of
‘satisfaction’ in the framework of the developed world does not apply in
these places. They are motivated to plant seeds and reap crops and find happiness
in their own environment where their wants are rudimentary. They haven’t
heard of Maslow and for the lack of knowing better, they live happy and
complete lives in their own way.
In conclusion, Maslow’s theories would need
major overhaul to apply contextually to the realities existent in Asian
societies, where the perceptions of individuality and satisfaction are
diametrically divergent from those in the Western world.