By Mort Laitner
I yanked open my top desk drawer searching for an old piece of paper—a folded, yellowish note pad page. Scrawled across that page, I had written a message to myself. The note traveled with me from Miami to St. Pete, to Baton Rouge and back to Miami. It lived in at least six different desks over the past forty years. The note and I traveled from school to school, and from job to job. I’d clear out my old desk, throw the note and all the drawer’s contents in a manila envelope, and then dump them in my new desk. The note remained a silent, often ignored companion—a distant reminder of a long unfulfilled goal.
To no avail, I rescanned all my desk drawers while wondering what had happened to it. My luck and the note had gone south. I lost it.
The night before my unsuccessful search, I taught ethics at Barry University. We discussed Kohlberg’s Theory of Cognitive Development.
I asked the class, “What other hierarchies have you studied?”
“Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Psychology,” Hugo replied.
Hugo’s words transported me back to 1968—my psychology class at the University of Miami. I scoured the classroom for that cute, buxom, five-foot-three-inch blond. No luck. She usually sat in front of me. Not seeing her, I realized that I did not know her name but had her dimensions branded in my brain. I doubted if she even knew I existed. I lacked the fortitude to introduce myself. My fear of rejection and/or ridicule paralyzed my tongue and lips. I knew I was not fully developed.
I turned my head and my attention to my psych professor as he called the class to order. “Today we are going to study Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.”
I started to take notes as he drew a triangle on the blackboard. He divided the triangle into five sections, with the words “Being Needs” above it and the words “Deficit Needs” below it. As the professor filled in each section, I wondered where I stood on this Hierarchy of Needs.
On a yellowish piece of note paper, I copied the pyramid-shaped list.
Esteem needs—Lower: status, fame, glory, recognition. Higher: self-respect, confidence, understanding, goodness, justice, beauty, order, and symmetry.
Love and Belongingness needs—affiliation, acceptance, affection.
Safety needs—job security, financial reserves, living in safe environment.
hysiological needs—air, food, water, sleep, sex.
The cute blond arrived, took her seat, and whipped out her spiral pad. As she copied the list, I pondered where she fit in this hierarchy. I guessed she rested a notch or two higher than me.
When the class ended, I took one last long look at the blond as she exited the room. I folded Maslow’s list and carefully placed it in my wallet. I decided that I would examine the note annually to determine if I had met my new goal of self-actualization.
I snapped back to teaching and asked my student Hugo, “What did Maslow consider the ultimate stage a person could attain in his hierarchy?”
“Self-actualization,” Hugo replied.
“And what is self-actualization?” I queried.
“Professor, it’s the summit, the apex, the top. It’s when one reaches his or her full potential as a person. However the person’s needs are never fully satisfied because there are always new opportunities for continued growth.”
Massaging my chin, I replied, “Hugo, I’m quite impressed with your memory. Do you have any more info on this subject?”
“Professor, I do. The self-actualized have a sense of humility and a deep respect for others. They are compassionate and have strong ethics. They are creative, problem solving folks with a sense of humor that is not hostile. The self-actualized have frequent peak experiences, by which I mean, moments of profound happiness or harmony. Existence on this planet being so tough, I’m not surprised that only a small percentage of people are self-actualized—Maslow thinks around two percent. In fact, I’m not sure I know or have met any of them.”
I addressed the class, “Are any of you self-actualized?”
No hands went up, and silence enveloped the room.
I felt the students’ eyes rest upon me. They looked curiously at me as a smile broke across my face. In a moment of clarity, I realized I had met my goal. I had made it!
It took forty years, but the note had burned a mental road map for my self development. I had just tasted another profound moment of happiness and harmony. I let out a muffled laugh as I wondered whatever happened to the cute blonde.