A Simple Path: Needs, Nonconformity and Non-Distraction

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As I embark on a more simple and less technological way of life, I have been thinking about a tangle of tangentially related concepts: ‘distraction’, ‘habit’, ‘nonconformity’ and — of all things! — Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. While I will not be able to tie them all together here and now, I hope to thread some ideas together. After all, I am after better patterns.

Contrary to what I have written, I do find some psychology interesting. If we leave the rungs of Maslow’s pyramid suitably vague and allow for some fluidity between the levels (so as to account for situational and cultural differences), it is hard to disagree! By incorporating self-transcendence into self-actualization, Maslow addressed some fair criticisms; in particular, that his story about human development is too narrowly focused on the evolution of the individual self, cutoff from her communities.

Variously developed and interpreted, Maslow’s basic idea is this: once we achieve shelter, clothing, sleep and nutrients; safety (including financial security, a measure of health and freedom from harm); social belonging and, finally, esteem or respect, then and only then can we finally achieve “self-actualization” and “self-transcendence” – the very marrow of life at the top of the pyramid. (There are obvious counterexamples, like the self-transcendence Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl experienced in Nazi concentration camps. Many cases of extreme deprivation provide counterexamples; so, perhaps, both basic fulfillment and extreme deprivation prompt self-transcendence?)

What is so interesting about this pyramid of needs (ordered from more fundamental to more refined) is how few people ever achieve the more foundational needs in their lifetime. Even in “developed” countries like the US, we bounce around in the two bottom levels, surviving instead of living.

I wonder why more of us are not focused on meeting our basic needs — those fundamental needs that are so essential to our well-being, both individually and as a society. Are we afraid of our own company, so much so that we pursue distraction? As Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées“When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town” (139).

I suppose I am a nonconformist; however, I am not a nonconformist just to be a nonconformist! I would gladly conform, if I were surrounded by flourishing people. And yet, it is so rare that I meet an authentically flourishing human being. (When is the last time you met one?)

My well constructed financial plan is now becoming unconscious financial habit; I spend very little, and I do not think about it. I do not view it is as deprivation. Rather, I am happy that I consume less and buy items used, saving them from a landfill. For me, it is a solid source of self-respect, not to mention respect for the Earth, including her nonhuman and human inhabitants.

It is unlikely that I will continue to blog about financial matters, as the entire point of (relative) financial independence is to forget about money and the business of consumption – and to ultimately free myself from a consumer or transactional mindset. Because only then can we focus on better things. 🙂

‘Till next time,

Sarah

 

 

Author: sarahruthjansen

Sarah Ruth Jansen is an American scholar, philosopher, writer and outdoor adventurer. Between trimesters teaching philosophy in Minnesota Sarah bikepacked the Colorado Trail (Denver to Silverton) in 2014 and completed the cross-country Tour Divide Race in 2015. In 2016 Sarah won the Arizona Trail Race. You may contact Sarah at sarahruthjansen@gmail.com.

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