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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

do your own thing

Last night: half a Sleep Aid, followed by a much better night's sleep. Do I move thus down the treacherous slope of drug dependency, as so many artists (and others) have before me?

What a difference to my outlook it makes, though. Instead of being buffeted by feelings of helplessness, inadequacy, pessimism, and guilt, I feel a kind of composure and even enthusiasm for my life and its quirks--warts and all, you might say.

Apart from the Sleep Aid, another source of uplift yesterday was reading further into Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham Maslow. This book came out in 1962 as a follow-up to his seminal Motivation and Personality, published in 1954 (a copy of which is now winging its way to me via the mail). It's actually a compilation of lectures on various aspects of his psychological thinking, fleshing out and extending some ideas from the earlier work. My copy, a 1968 Insight paperback, is in bad shape--two edges have been blackened with felt pen in an effort to obliterate the name of a previous owner, a certain Kratz; and the glue on the spine has turned brittle so that the pages snap away from it as I turn them--indeed the worst of any book I've bought online, such that I think the seller misrepresented its condition and should not have offered it sight unseen. But the content is excellent, and I'm drinking it in avidly.

"What makes people neurotic?" With this question Maslow launches chapter 3, "Deficiency Motivation and Growth Motivation". He sketches in the answer he found:

My answer was that neurosis seemed at its core, and in its beginning, to be a deficiency disease, born out of being deprived of certain satisfactions which I called needs in the same sense that water and amino acids and calcium are needs, namely that their absence produces illness. Most neuroses involved, along with other complex determinants, ungratified wishes for safety, for belongingness and identification, for close love relationships, and for respect and prestige. When these deficiencies were eliminated, sicknesses tended to disappear.

Maslow does not use the word need to point vaguely at our various wishes, hopes, demands, or cravings. Rather, it points to a specific thing the lack of which results in characteristic types of illness, in exactly the same way that a lack of water, vitamin C, or calcium leads to characteristic illness in the body. We need water, vitamin C, and calcium in order to be healthy; the Buddha and Jesus also needed them. Maslow says we also need safety, belonging, love, and respect in order to be healthy. If these needs aren't met, then we develop deficiency syndromes which broadly can be called the neuroses.

When we lack any of these things, they motivate our behavior. If we're not loved, then our lives become shaped by that lack, how we seek to fill the void, or compensate for not having it.

But these "deficiency needs" are not the whole story. When they're all satisfied, we don't simply come to rest and do nothing. Rather, a new set of motivations or needs opens up: what Maslow calls the "being needs"--the drive for self-actualization. These needs are manifested by psychologically healthy people, and they are never gratified in the sense of "plugging a hole", as are the deficiency needs. With being-needs, the more gratified they are, the more intensely the need is felt, and the more it serves as motivation to go further with it.

In addition, while the deficiency needs are generic, or "species needs", in the sense that they are needed by everyone just by virtue of being a human being, the being-needs are highly individual; their exact direction varies according to the talents, interests, and vocation of the specific person. With the being-needs, it's really different strokes for different folks. You might be fulfilled by tightrope-walking across a canyon; I might be fulfilled by designing origami airplanes. These interests arise from the peculiarities of our individual natures.

Maslow goes on to list 13 characteristics of psychologically healthy people--those who have (more or less) gratified their "D-needs" and are attending to their "B-needs":

1) Superior perception of reality.

2) Increased acceptance of self, of others, and of nature.

3) Increased spontaneity.

4) Increase in problem-centering.

5) Increased detachment and desire for privacy.

6) Increased autonomy, and resistance to enculturation.

7) Greater freshness of appreciation, and richness of emotional reaction.

8) Higher frequency of peak experiences.

9) Increased identification with the human species.

10) Changed (improved) interperonal relations.

11) More democratic character structure.

12) Greatly increased creativeness.

13) Certain changes in the value system.

Here is a cornucopia of things to think about. I'll single out three items from the list: spontaneity, privacy, and resistance to enculturation. Briefly put, the healthy person, even while feeling more fellowship with the human race as a whole, seeks autonomy from it in order to pursue his own interests and passions. The healthy person, recognizing both the uniqueness and the validity of his particular interests, engages with them fully and unapologetically, while acknowledging and appreciating the right of everyone else to do the same.

Sounds good to me. It puts me in mind of a quote attributed to Einstein that I found recently:

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.

Summing up: My worries and angst are symptoms of neurosis which is the product of certain deficiencies. The inspiration, interest, and passion I feel for working on my creative projects, regardless of how strange, implausible, or irrelevant they may seem from a culturally normal perspective, are signs of mental health--following the path of self-actualization.

I do have to see to my deficiencies. But never should I stop actualizing myself!

And friends, that goes for all of us. Do your own thing, and I'll do mine.

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