If you attended college, your education might have included a beginning course in psychology, sociology, or organizational behavior. Somewhere during that course, you were probably introduced to a concept called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. It’s a scholarly term (because you paid a hefty tuition and expect lots of scholarly stuff in return for your payment), but it addresses a pretty basic notion in human behavior. Humans have a variety of needs, but there is a fundamental order in which these needs have to be addressed. Specifically, our species first works to satisfy our most basic life-support needs and then moves on to emotional and cognitive needs.

If the above paragraph struck you as complete babble, let me restate. Here’s the way people work. First, we try to stay alive in the short term. If successful, we try to stay alive over a longer period of time. Again, if successful, we might have some free time to think about our emotions and possibly consider the social issues in our life. The key point to realize is that there is a particular order in which needs have to be addressed. It’s kind of like your favorite video game; you can’t get to Level 2 until you’ve aced Level 1, and you have to ace Level 1 every day before doing anything else.

To demonstrate this hierarchy, here’s an example: If you are being chased by a grizzly bear in the woods, at that moment you are entirely devoted to getting away from the bear (i.e., short-term survival). You’re not thinking about what’s for dinner. If you succeed in eluding the bear, at some point you will relax and realize you are hungry (and perhaps cold because freezing rain is now falling on your head). So, now you concentrate on finding food and shelter (i.e., longer-term survival), and until you satisfy that hunger and find some shelter, you’re not really concerned about whether your current boyfriend/girlfriend still likes you.

So what? Well, up until a few decades ago humans had to deal with those short and longer-term survival needs on a constant basis and thus were keenly aware of their importance and the consequences of not meeting those needs. However, individuals in the baby-boom generation and beyond have seldom, if ever, had to directly deal with short and long-term survival issues. At least in first-world nations like the United States, we have created technology and employed a free-market economy that greatly simplifies the effort required (e.g., buying groceries at the store) to meet these needs for most citizens. Our economic system of free enterprise has generated the greatest standard of living known by mankind. These advances have enabled us to turn our attention from tasks of basic survival to societal concerns and various aspects of the human condition. These subjects range from managing our leisure time to maintaining personal relationships to considering how we can best get along as a diverse set of people.

Yet, just because we haven’t had to consciously think about satisfying our basic needs for the past seventy years doesn’t mean those needs have gone away. Uncontrollable natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or perhaps a solar storm could wreak havoc with our infrastructure and quickly send affected areas back to square one. Human disruptions such as war could also devastate our world and leave survivors struggling to carve out a meager existence. Finally, straying away from the principles of capitalism and the free-market system (which produced our prosperous standard of living) in the name of social justice could send us tumbling backwards. Don’t believe me? Ask the current citizens of Venezuela.

Because the possibility of serious infrastructure or lifestyle disruptions exists, we need to conciously maintain our survival skills at both the individual and national levels. In particular, we need to encourage self sufficiency as a virtue, and we need to preserve our free-market economic systems that reward ingenuity, self-discipline, and hard work. Remember, dodging grizzly bears, starving, and freezing aren’t all that fun.


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