Maslow and Culture, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

I guess I would argue that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if it is used in terms of Positive Psychology, is culturally inadequate. Taking into account culture and individuality could lead one to showing the hierarchy of needs as an upside-down pyramid.

Maslow 3

As humans, our physiological needs are quite similar. There is relatively little variation due to individuality or culture. However, when we move to Safety and Security, we start to have a broader range of attitudes and responses as to what meets this need. This is even more true when we get to Love and Belongingness. Culture defines social belongingness. What meets this need is far from universal.

Continuing on to Esteem, it was already pretty broad as described by Maslow with social and individual components. Some derive esteem more from belongingness, others from public recognition, and yet others from internal resources or from God.

This then leads to the broadest of all— actualization. It could be described as self-actualization, but studies have shown that most people feel that they are self-actualized if they are recognized as great or important by the general public. One might simply tell these people that they don’t understand what “self-actualized” really is. However, in the previous post, I related the story of a person who felt actualized by achieving his role as a positive member of a supportive family. It is hard to see how such actualization is less meaningful than achieving one’s own internal potential.

Perhaps it is better to recognize the spectrum. All of them involve a certain amount of “finding one’s calling” or seeing that one has accomplished or is accomplishing the purpose for which one was placed on the earth. The difference is that individual personalities and different cultures may disagree in terms of how this is evaluated. Some may see it as involving:

  • Interconnectedness with family and loved ones
  • Faithful service to God
  • Accolades of the public
  • Personal recognition of living out one’s personal talents and giftings.

The Eastern mindset may focus more on the first one, while the Western mindset may focus more on the last one. As Christians we may focus on the second one. However, these are often more theoretical than actual. The most common one worldwide tends to be the third one— accolades of the public. That is quite likely the worst of the possible choices. To give over one’s evaluation of self-worth and achievement of purpose to a bunch of fickle strangers is truly self-destructive.

Overall, however, I think it is worth noting that the church may fit better into the Eastern worldview in terms of social actualization, mixed with the second one. While a lot has been written about how Christians can achieve their God-given dreams, actualizing their calling and gifting, much of the Biblical understanding of the church is in terms of social actualization. It is not about you or me or about your dreams or my dreams, but our place as members of one body, carrying out our social roles within a community structured more on love and belongingness than on merit and success. And yes, it is also about God.  This does not discount the other side, but I would suggest that far too many churches are filled with far too many disconnected and lonely people (“… where do they all come from.”). Perhaps it is time to consider a different model for church life and individual growth.

Maslow and Culture, Part 1

Consider for the moment Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Image result for maslow's hierarchy

As the theory goes, one cannot go to the next level of need until the lower ones are satisfied. This is not so much a proven truth, but a useful way of looking at things. However, typically, this hierarchy of needs is also used by many as a guide for healthy thought and living.

But is it?

Consider a different way of showing this pyramid.

Maslow

In this case, moving “up” the pyramid is moving to the right on the graph. The blue line shows whether the focus is on a person as a social being or as an individuated being. For PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS, one is focusing on what keeps body and soul together… so clearly the focus is on the individual (food, water, shelter, air, etc.). As one moves towards SAFETY AND SECURITY, one is now moving towards the more emotional and social aspects of a person. Few if any really feel safe or secure alone or socially disconnected. As such, there is a greater recognition of the person as a social being.

As one moves to the next level, LOVE AND BELONGINGNESS, there is the greatest recognition of a person as a social being. We were meant to be part of WE, not an aggregate of I’s. We are meant to be with others and part of others.

As one moves to the next higher level, SELF-ESTEEM, the social aspect of a person is focused on less. Abraham Maslow saw self-esteem as having an internal component and an external component. The external component is status and respect given to a person from one’s social web of connections. The internal component is the feeling of self-worth one gets through internal personal evaluation and validation.

<Note:  Some don’t agree with this. They suggest that one should not allow external influences have an impact on one’s self-esteem. However, since perhaps the only ones who can truly live through internal validation alone are the truly shameless, or perhaps the sociopathic, I am not so sure that this school of thought is worthy of embracing (at least at its extremes).>

The top level is SELF-ACTUALIZATION. This is “the full realization of one’s creative, intellectual, or social potential.” While Maslow did point out some famous people he considered to be self-actualized, he noted that fame had nothing to do with their status… it was about reaching their own individual potential, regardless of outside identification. As such, we have swung back fully to the individuated self and away from the social being.

But is this true?

Consider a story from the TV Show “House”  (Season 3, Episode 13).

In this episode, Dr. Foreman was working to diagnose and treat a 16 year old male of Romani (“gypsy”) heritage. He is found to be quite knowledgeable and intelligent and is seen by Dr. Foreman as having great potential in medicine if he would get further education and move into medical work. However, the young man has no interest in that. He is tightly connected to his family and Romani clan. As such, they have a strong influence on what he does. He doesn’t want to go against them or separate from them. The story ends somewhat unresolved. Dr. Foreman is saddened that the teenager rejects the possibility of living up to his potential in terms of a medical career. He also, however, seems a bit saddened to realize that in his quest to advance his career, he has given up a lot… in fact leaving behind family, and lacking, in many ways any deep relationships. Who has chosen the better path?

If one looks at the Hierarchy of Needs:

Both are okay in terms of physiological needs and safety and security (at least after the Romani teen was healed of his illness).

Both also seem to have decent self-esteem. Dr. Foreman is recognized as a very competent physician. If he lacks self-esteem, he hides it well enough. The Romani teen also seems to have good self-esteem. He appears to be very affirmed by a loving family, and seems to like the trajectory his life is on.

There are, however, differences. Dr. Foreman has a social deficient life… living alone, invested in his job over all other aspects of his life, and rather disconnected from his family. Still, he might be seen by Maslow as self-actualized since he appears to be living out his calling and potential as a physician.  For the Romani teen, he seems to be well positioned in a loving and supportive family so he has no problems in terms of love and belongingness. However, he would never be seen as self-actualized since his potential in terms of medical science will never be achieved if he stays on the path he is on.

Now consider this story as a parable in terms of East versus West of what is ideal. Dr. Foreman expresses the ideal of Western culture. He is highly individuated (as the term is used by Murray Bowen) from his birth family. He has found what is he is good at and gained expertise in it, and has achieved external fame, and appears to be  living up to his potential. He is living the ideal of Western culture. The teenager is of Romani heritage, which has many aspects of Eastern culture. In it, family and community have greater import. He is far less individuated. However, it is within that supportive structure that he finds his place and his meaning. As such he has great self-esteem that comes from affirmation of loved ones, and the opportunity to live out his potential as a social being, even if not as an individuated being.

Continued in Part 2.

Fingers Pointing Back

A couple of blogposts prior, I noted a situation in one of my classes where I was (somewhat justifiably) unhappy with how my class responded to a situation. It was justifiable in the sense that the behavior of the class was 180 degrees out of line with what I was teaching. On the other hand it created a great learning opportunity.

A couple of days ago I had the reverse happen

Children’s Activity held in Tublay, Benguet after a typhoon

where I realized that I was the one who was 180 degrees out of line with what I was teaching. I am teaching a course in Strategy and Management of Missions. I wanted my students to formulate and implement a missions project.

Based on a Rapid Assessment done by a previous class, the group decided to do a cleaning project in a community. I thought that was a good choice. It is something simple, recognizable, and can be done in partnership with a local church as well as local government.

Anyway, three weeks before the event, the team went to the community to plan out details. As they went around they decided that they had made a mistake. Instead of a cleaning project, they should do a children’s event.

When I heard that, I was annoyed. With everyone’s crazy schedules there was no way that we could change course this late in the game. It seemed to me they were setting things up to fail.

But then as the situation was explained to me, I realized they were doing exactly what I told them to do.

  1.  I told them that they need to periodically evaluate the plan and vision and see if it was appropriate. In this case it wasn’t appropriate. Although a few months ago the community had issues that would be helped by a work day, things were better now. Perhaps, the report from my previous that was given to the community inspired them to fix some of the problems on the list. When circumstances change, one must be ready to change with it.
  2. I told them that one should always seek to link short-term projects to long-term programs. As they were working out the details of their plan, they realized that it would be much more difficult to link a cleaning day to a long-term ministry (not impossible… but a long-term program of periodic work days is not necessarily the best idea). On the other hand, a short-term project with children could be linked quite easily to VBS, backyard Bible clubs, to Sunday School and more.
  3. I told them that the key attitudes for doing a ministry project are (1) Love of God and desire to follow the example of Christ, (2) Respond compassionately to human need, and (3) Assist the Church or the Kingdom of God to expand.  As such, doing something to get a grade is not an adequate reason. As such, I can hardly pressure them to go back and do something that was originally planned simply because “it is feasible to do within the time constraints.”
  4. I told them that key things to look for in a community to help identify of God’s love can best be shown is to discover what the community’s hopes and fears are. Concern for the children of the community was very high, while dirty walking paths was little more than an annoyance. So they were right to reevaluate.

With all of this, my little class (6 members total) still were looking to get everything put together in a bit over 2 weeks. While not impossible, the students have crazy schedules to handle. I didn’t want to burn them out, or let them put together a hastily-constructed project. That was something the class was suppose to warn them against. I jumped in and said that we will aim to do the project in April (over a month after the class finishes). The job of the class would be to work out the full plan, schedule, budget, and all the other niceties that entail a mission project. The host church will implement the plan in April with the help of those members of the class who are able to (voluntarily) join.

It is easy to identify when other’s don’t do what I want them to do. It is less comfortable when I discover that my irritation was misplaced as they were doing exactly what I told them to do.

Overseer as Trainer and Therapist

I am presently serving as the interim pastor of a small church, and I am writing a book (with my wife) on pastoral care and pastoral supervision. I was a bit inspired by an overlap in the role of pastor and pastoral supervisor that I thought I would add a bit of our book here (or, more accurately, the very initial first draft of an incomplete chapter in the book):

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The term “supervisor” is used in the New Testament. It is ἐπισκοπῆς or “episkopes.”   The term is sometimes translated bishop, pastor or overseer. The last of these is the most literal. The clerical role is not necessarily about power or control. In fact, those that see the role in terms of ecclesiastical power seem to miss the point a bit. After all, in the qualifications for an overseer/supervisor in I Timothy 3, the only skill listed for the overeer is the ability to train people. Drawing from a second metaphor for this person, that of the shepherd, one can go to Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34, and some of the teachings of Christ to see that a second skill is in terms of pastoral care (healing, guiding, reconciling, sustaining). Much in line with the expectations for a bishop/pastor in I Timothy 3, in Clinical Pastoral Care, it is expected that the supervisory relationship will be both didactic (able to teach) and therapeutic (ability to do pastoral care).

The First Epistle to Timothy gives some guidelines for pastors or overseers in a church.  According to I Timothy 3:2-7, an overseer should be

above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[ respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Reputation

Self-Control

Relationships with Others

Above reproach or blame

Sexual self-control

Hospitable

Respectable

Self-control in habit

Not violent with others, but gentle

Good reputation with outsiders

Mature in role

Good relationship with Family

Able to teach or guide others

Looking at these three major areas, perhaps there is a logical progression that should considered. Arguably, the reputation should flow from the relationships the overseer has. And the health of these relationships should flow from the intangible aspects of the overseer’s character.  The qualities of an overseer in a church setting or in clinical pastoral training should be essentially the same. It is out of these qualities that an overseer may be able to train and provide therapy.

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For many, when they hear of this list of characteristics for a pastor/overseer, they focus on the 2nd item, “faithful to his wife,” or “husband of one wife.” From this there is speculation of whether a pastor must be male or not, whether he (or she) must be married or not, or whether the person can be divorced. However, there is no mention of marriage or marriage relationships in the original. A literal (perhaps too literal) translation is “a one-woman man.” This suggests that the key point is sexual faithfulness and sexual self-control. That is why I put it that way in the table above. If God does care as to whether an overseer in church is a man or woman, I doubt the concern is nearly as great as the other qualities. Considering how many angry, immature pastors I have met with toxic reputations, it is clear to me that many churches don’t take this section very seriously.

]

Reflection on Interreligious Dialogue Class

Background. I was teaching a class on Dialogue with Asian Religions at seminary. One day, one of my students, a Muslim Background Believer, came to me and asked whether he could teach a couple of class hours on Islam. I was rather relieved by this. Islam is not a religion that interests me particularly, but I also know that it deserves to be taught well, since it is the largest (organized) non-Christian religion in the world, and probably the second most important religion in Southeast Asia.

Dialogue/Incident. M will stand for the student teacher in Islam. S1 will be Student 1. S2 will be Student 2. P will be the Professor (myself). <The story was written down over a year after the incident, so due to poor memory, some specifics are fictionalized although the overall story is accurately given.>

M: Good morning class. I will be teaching you about Islam today. I was born and raised a Muslim in a Muslim community, and today I will share about Islam from the perspective of a Muslim. Now Islam is a religion of peace. The name Islam is related to the word “Salaam” meaning peace and relates to the Jewish word Shalom.

S1: Excuse me. But why are Muslims so violent then if they are a religion of peace?

M: Islam is about peace. One can’t judge our faith on a few who are bad or violent. Would you like to have Christianity judged on a few bad Christians?

M: <Continuing, M read Genesis 17:17-18, 20. This speaks of God’s plan to bless Ishmael> As you can see God chose to bless Ishmael as the first son of Abraham, the inheritor of God’s favor. And as we see here <showing another slide> Ishmael was the father of the Arab peoples and one of his descendants is Muhammed who is the one who passed onto us the Quran as the final prophet of Islam.

S2: But Ishmael was not the inheritor of God’s blessing to Abraham, it was Isaac! This is what the Bible teaches.

M: Ah, but is that what it says here in Genesis 17? Verse 20 says And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget and I will make him a great nation.”

What does it say in the Taurat (Torah)? And in the Quran Surah 2, it says that Ishmael is the son who was blessed not Isaac. Ishmael was the son who was taken to be sacrificed in Arabia, and the one who Ibrahim took with him to Mekka to build the Kaaba– the first mosque of Islam.

<Some rumblings and jokes started going around that the student is a “secret Muslim.” M continued to speak talking about how Yakub (Jacob) spoke to his sons about the need to follow Allah, the god of Ibrahim, Ishmael, and Isaac. M then spoke of the prophets of Islam: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Isa (Jesus). More questions were brought up by the students. However, the questions were not actually questions to understand Islam or what M was saying, but were questions to undermine the arguments of M. Finally, I jumped in.>

P: <Angrily> You know that M said tha the was going to be speaking about Islam from the standpoint of a Muslim. So stop the little jokes about him being a closet Muslim. Your job is to listen and learn…. not debate!

Theological Reflection: Theologically, we are often insecure. We can be so insecure that we struggle when people express beliefs that are different from our own. As humans we were designed with a Fight/Flight adrenal response to address threats. That can be very useful when we are threatened— when we are under attack. However, when we are faced with a person who believes something different, the same response is often triggered. We often get angry (and wanting to respond agressively) or with fear (and wanting to escape). I think this is a socio-cultural response. Cultural establishes groupings of people who generally share a belief in how experiences are interpreted and how such interpretation would guide action. Anyone who expresses beliefs that interpret experiences quite different and have beliefs that guide actions that are very different—- they are outside of one’s cultural grouping. People who are not part of our cultural grouping are THEM (as opposed to US). “THEM” are foreign, aliens, strangers, outsiders. Such people are naturally seen as threats. Of course, people within one’s own culture (“US”) can also be seen as threats. However, they usually are less threatening because we feel like we understand them (because of the different way of interpreting experiences and guiding behavior). This feeling can be so strong, that we react even when a person is “playing a role.”

Ministerial Reflection. I believe I responded correctly in redirecting the students. They were so focused on joking and challenging, that they weren’t really listening. However, I may have come on too strong. People started focusing on listening so much that they did not really ask many questions after. The presentation became more like a one-way lecture.

Personal Reflection. Why did I get angry. I wasn’t angry at M, but I was angry at the students. I am not totally sure. Maybe I was angry because I felt like I had failed. I was trying to teach them the importance of Dialogue with those of other religions, yet even in the controlled environment of classroom (on Dialogue!) the students immediately went to Debate. Or maybe my anger wasn’t really at the students at all. Maybe I was angry at myself— thinking that I failed as an instructor. I think that maybe I was also sad. Christianity has existed for almost 2000 years. In most of those centuries, Christians have struggled in how to relate to non-Christians. Most commonly, the example of Christ is not lived out in these interactions. The class on this day gave a little snapshot of centuries of struggle in this area.

Response. It was foolish for me to get angry at my students. I was, in a sense, responding the same way they were. They reacted to the presenter, and I reacted to them. In the future, I think it is more important to have students get more practice in Dialogue. As such, I will spend less time on lecture. It is a class on Dialogue after all.

I could also give better ground rules if we do a similar exercise again— warning the students not to react to the speaker, but focus on the principles of active listening, dialogue, and clarification. Or maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe it is better not to prepare them. Rather, let things happen as they happen, and use whatever happens as a learning moment for all of us. I am not sure what is best in this case.

Pensive Thankfulness

Today we celebrated the first year anniversary of our littlepensive church here in Baguio. It has been a challenging year… but I think we are stronger for it. Our older daughter sang a special number— “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings on Me.” She was trying to decide whether to sing that song or ‘Thank You Lord for the Trials that Come my Way.” Because of my limited guitar skills, she chose the former. Both songs are quite appropriate to our church’s struggles as well as her health challenges. She had to stop school for a year because of these challenges. Thankfully she is getting better, but it is difficult to disconnect from the rest of the world for many months. In fact, it was the first time for her to be able to join us in churchin a long time.

Both songs have a pensive (deep reflective) quality to it that defies the common kneejerk expression, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” How does one respond when God goodness is not clearly evidenced? How do we respond thankfully to loss, trials, struggles.

The song that my daughter sang was a favorite song of several women that we worked with years ago. We had a ministry with a number of women who sold plastic bags in the public market here in Baguio. Pretty much all of them would be considered desperately poor by “First World” standards. One lady, in particular, often would ask that this song be sung in our Bible studies. She came to Christ at a very low point in her life when she was raising up several children with little to no support. The change in her spiritual life did not suddenly change many of the struggles including economic. It is true, however, that over the last 14 years her situation has improved considerably, but still nowhere near where most people would consider “blessed.” She, however, liked to sing the song well before her situation improved.

I think thankfulness involves a certain amount of pensiveness and even melancholy. Our thankfulness should be based on a real understanding of our situation— the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful.

Thankfulness that is automatic, unthinking, is a “flabby” thankfulness— and perhaps it is not thankful at all. Thankfulness is for what we have, not what we pretend to have. Such thankfulness is at best an empty eggshell… containing nothing and far too fragile to help sustain us.

Thank you Lord, For your Blessings on Me

(The Easter Brothers)

G     A7       D     A7        D ,     A7

        D                            A7
As the world looks upon me, as I struggle along


     Em          A7           G           D

They say I have nothing, but they are so wrong 

                                                 G   
In my heart I'm rejoicing, how I wish they could see

D          A7             D          A7
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …....

Chorus           D                      A7
     There's a roof up above me, I've a good place to sleep

              Em         A7          G          D
     There's food on my table, And shoes on my feet

                                              
                                                    G
     You gave me your love Lord, And a fine family

           D               A7          D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …..




Now I know I'm not wealthy, and these clothes, they're not new

I don't have much money, but Lord I have you

And to me that's all that matters, though the world cannot see

Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me ….

Chorus
--------

    G       D              A7         D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me