The pyramid concept in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs reveals some interesting insight into what Western psychological considers ultimately important. The satisfaction or fulfillment of “lower” needs is foundational for the fulfillment of higher needs. In a sense, that makes these needs more important because their lack of satisfaction inhibits the achievement of higher needs. The lower needs are in a sense the easiest to fulfill (air, water, food, etc.), and a sense of safety should be easily attained with a modest amount of certainty that the physiological needs will be fulfilled on an ongoing basis. What Maslow fails to explain fully is the insatiable desire of some to accumulate an abundance of resources that far exceed what might ever be needed for physiological or safety purposes. Is a lack of love and belonging or the drive for esteem so powerful that self-actualization finds expression in selfish grasping, accumulating, hoarding, and exploiting of material things? How can billionaires party when surrounded by desperate poverty? Maslow has missed something in the basic selfish nature of humanity that we as Christians would call “sin.” Adam and Eve symbolize those who have their basic needs fully met but still choose to grasp for more.
The ultimate goal in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is called “self-actualization.” The examples identified at the apex of the needs pyramid provide interesting insight into what Western psychological considers ultimately important: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts, and so forth. Maslow would not say that these things cannot kick it at a lower level of development, but the supreme focus on the “self” provides a basically distorted orientation that elevates selfish desires. The “I want to be fulfilled” of self-actualization cannot escape the self-centered “I” or the bottomless pit of selfish desire. We need another model of what it means to be truly human and how we strive together for the common good.