For A Better Place, Covid-19 and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

For A Better Place, Covid-19 and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

 “Is this the way you want it to be, is this the way it’s gonna be…trying to make a living out there but it’s so hard.”

This lamentation is an excerpt from a song by the late reggae legend, Lucky Dube. The song always plays in my mind everyday. I have to wake up before the rising of the sun and return home after its setting. Day after day and week after week I see my life (and yours too) pass before me with the speed of a supersonic jet. I see dejected old men in the streets, and I ask myself, where has their time gone? I see women with babies strapped on their backs hawking soft drinks and water in the scotching African sun and I ask myself, where is their hope? I see my beautiful sisters clad half naked seeking patronage, and I ask myself, who took away their dignity? I see educated and talented young men running in traffic just to sell a commodity, and I asked myself, can their future be better? And I see the multitude of beggars, and I ask myself, could this be Your image, LORD? Just end the world now! 

If man is the crown of creation, why then should we toil everyday just to survive like animals? With our superior capabilities shouldn’t we be living beyond survival? Why is the majority of humanity still striving to meet the basic needs according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Why should we live out our lives on these two levels of physiological needs and safety needs as if there are no higher levels of belonging and love, esteem needs, and self actualization and transcendence? 

Of course, I ask these questions in relation to my environment. I know there are climes where things are better. Citizens of these countries do not bother themselves about daily livelihood because they have responsible governments that have secured the first two basic levels. They occupy the higher levels of psychological needs and self actualization in Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. They have the time and freedom to use their gifts, talents and capabilities to give the world a sense of direction that their focus is now more on the celestial than the terrestrial. Why should a part of the human race be so far ahead of the rest when we were all created together? 

Just what is wrong with being black?! How long shall we be called the Dark Continent? This year makes it sixty (60) years of self-governance in Nigeria; we can’t still get electricity right when we are not asked to rediscover electricity. Why do we have anti development officials in all levels of our government motivated by personal greed arresting development? You ask every Nigerian what troubles the country. We quickly use our index fingers to point at the leaders with the rest four fingers pointing at us. 

If we are in trouble with the country, how do we make her better? It’s a matter of mindset. For us to rise to our next level of better life is to individually seek to be altruistic. When we are altruistic, we will not inflate and pad budgets, we will not prevent the approval of a project because of a bribe, we will honor the elderly and vulnerable in our midst, we will not sit on somebody’s promotion, we will not fail female student for sex, we will not allocate development funds to some zones and deny another zone; in a nutshell, we will do unto others what we want done unto us. With these individual efforts, we will create the country we so much dream and talk about and achieve esteem, and self-actualization and transcendence, in other words, achieve our destinies. Let us bring this better place from the realm of imagination to reality. It is possible. 

Covid-19 and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The table above shows how a particular household in Nigeria allocates its monthly consumption budget to the five aggregate needs before and during Covid-19 pandemic. We can observe a significant change, for example, item five, which is Self-actualization in pre Covid-19 got the highest allocation and during Covid-19 it got a zero allocation. I have the feeling that all I just said seems a bit abstract to you. I want you to get my logic by accompanying me to 1943 to meet with Abraham Maslow to help us understand his theory on Human Motivation. Then we will return to this time, 2020, to analyze and understand the household consumption behavior.

Me: Good day Dr. Maslow.

Maslow: God day sir. I heard you are from the future, the 21st Millennium I suppose.

Me: That is correct Doctor. It’s a perilous time. We are facing an alien virus nicknamed Covid-19. It has snowballed into a pandemic. We need your help in understanding your thesis on human motivation and behavior. With this knowledge we will be able to fix the economy after we have defeated the invader.

Maslow: Oh my, that is awful news! Let’s get started. I published my study of how humans intrinsically partake in behavioral motivation; by motivation I am talking about the satisfaction of human needs that are innate. I termed it the Hierarchy of Needs, arranged in the form of a pyramid with the largest and most fundamental needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization and transcendence at the top. In other words, individuals’ most basic needs must be met before they become motivated to achieve higher levels of needs. This is what the pyramid looks like.

I acknowledge the likelihood that the different levels of needs could occur at any time in the human mind because the human brain is a complex system and has parallel processes running at the same time, thus many different motivations from various levels of the hierarchy can occur at the same time. I focused on identifying the basic types of motivation and the order in which they will tend to be met. However, scholars who critique my work prefer to think of these levels as continuously overlapping each other. This means that the lower levels may take precedence back over the other levels at any point in time. We are actually saying the same thing in different words, you know. It looks like this…

Me: Absolutely Doc! This is my own motivation. I realized that the hierarchy could change by circumstance. The higher-order (esteem, and self-actualization) and lower-order (physiological, safety, and love) needs are not universal and may vary across cultures, class, political system, age groups due to individual differences and availability of resources in the region or geopolitical entity/country.

Maslow: More true, your world is now embroiled in the same pandemic; consequently, I see a common human motivation and behavior, and a realignment of the overlapping needs as depicted by the curves below

Me: This is unbelievable Doc. The changes in the slopes of the curves is uniform with the changes in the monthly consumption budget on the five needs of an individual household in my country Nigeria, and by extension, the whole world. Before Covid-19 became a pandemic, the household in the penultimate month disbursed a budget of N100, 000 as follows: 20% (Physiological needs), 15% (Safety needs), 20% (Social belonging), 15% (Esteem), and 30% (Self-actualization). And in the pandemic era both Esteem and Self-actualization got 0%. Safety got the highest allocation of 45% trailed by physiological needs with 35%. And the least allocation of 20% went to Love and belonging.

Maslow: You see son, these changes in the allocations reflect the most dominant need in your world currently. Safety needs that include health and well-being got the highest allocation, making its curve to rise above others from the second most bottom position. It is followed by the curve representing physiological needs that include food, shelter and warmth because of the stay at home and social distancing order. The third curve representing love and social belonging with an allocation of 20% is the last rising curve just under physiological and safety curves. Just as I expected, man cannot be striving for esteem and self actualization under this circumstance. These needs got zero allocation causing their curve to nose-dive.

Me: It’s a pleasure meeting you Dr. Maslow. Your thoughts will prove invaluable to us. We must return to the future now to share this insight with everyone. It will deepen our understanding about our behavior under circumstances like this and also guide our decisions during and after the pandemic.

Maslow: Glad I could help. Good luck lad!

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2 thoughts on “For A Better Place, Covid-19 and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

  1. Thank you for this. It just expressed my recent thoughts.

    This virus on the positive outlook (though we have deaths and encourage everyone to stay safe) has given us almost a level play ground of opportunities.

    1. Interesting I am not the only one with this view point. Covid-19 is just like a devastating volcanic eruption in the sea, looking at the positive side too, new islands are formed for the benefit of man. Thanks for commenting.


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