Ch1 L15: Meanings and the hierarchy of needs

  1. In the last post [1], we discussed the hierarchy of meanings [2] and we related their importance to the amplitude of emotions. When it comes to emotions, we can’t analyze a human being without considering the factor of society. In fact, the social pressure is so immense that sometimes we feel that we want something which in reality is what society expects us. There are many experiments indicating the fact that we yield to the social norms and values even if we don’t believe in them [3].
  2. Societies were naturally created because animals and later humans felt and realized that they would be more powerful if they’d stuck together. This understanding is built in our genes; so is the competition. In the gene-centered view of evolution, it’s proposed that genes also compete with each other and increase the allele frequency of those alleles whose phenotypic trait effects successfully promote their own propagation, with gene defined as “not just one single physical bit of DNA [but] all replicas of a particular bit of DNA distributed throughout the world [4]. Thus, the competition among the people shouldn’t surprise us.
  3. In the first post, we discussed that we economically match our limited supplies with unlimited demands [5]. Therefore, when it comes to mating, we’re looking for the best one and if there are other people looking for the same person, the competition will be inevitable.
  4. Obviously, the strongest person is the winner of the competition. In the early, the strength would be mainly physical but as civilizations grew and money, knowledge and some values were introduced, different hierarchies formed on which people would strive to get to the top who are rewarded by the social respect which boosts their self-esteem.
  5. However, esteem is just one of the tiers in the hierarchy of needs [6] proposed by Abraham Maslow [7], an American psychologist.


  1. The diagram above demonstrates 5 tiers of needs, and the size of each tier arguably indicates its importance. Undoubtedly, our physiological needs are the first to be met, then we need to feel safe and being loved. The first three tiers help us survive and nourish physically and emotionally. Then we can go to the next level which is gaining respect or esteem through our behavior, attitude and ultimately achievements. Eventually, we can reach self-actualization when what we do reflect who we are and what we want.
  2. Now, we’d better stop and study the diagram carefully and relate it to our daily life. First of all, the size of each tier can be different for different people or societies.
  3. Example 11: For dreamers which range from ascetics, artists and scientists to ideologists, the hierarchy of needs could be upside down.


  1. Example 12: In a collectivist [8] society, the bonds between people are the strongest need, so they might even sacrifice their physiological and safety needs as well as the need for self-actualization [9]. Thus, the hierarchy should look like the diagram below.


  1. To study and to strive for higher grades lie in the esteem tier. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that most of the students who are struggling with their physiological, safety or love needs underperform, thus underachieve [10]. A student who lives with abusive parents or finds their school unsafe, being bullied or punished frequently is more susceptible to failure.
  2. In the group of mid-class or rich students with financial security and a safe environment, being loved or belonging to a group is the most important need for which they might sacrifice their studies. They spend too much time to get the attention that they may forget to get to the esteem level. They normally feel being unloved or particularly unattractive. Their parents whose main aim is to make their kid’s future financially secure and neglect their emotional needs must deal with their erratic behavior especially in adolescence. [11]
  3. So, it’s very important for students to be aware of the difference between love and respect. That’s what I tell my students “I love you all equally and unconditionally but don’t expect me to respect you equally. Because love is what I can give you and as a teacher, I can’t be unfair, yet respect is what you gain with your manner, attitude, and achievements.”
  4. So, the hierarchy of meaning can be related to the hierarchy of needs which can have different shapes among people due to their unfulfilled needs and they can affect thinking, planning and making decisions.
  5. To wrap up the hierarchy of needs, I’d like to use a quote from Franny and Zooey [12] a novel by J. D. Salinger [13]. When Franny was complaining about one of her lecturers to Lane, her boyfriend, he said that he thought that she’d liked the lecturer. Then Franny says “I do like him. I’m sick of just liking people.  I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.”

Exercise 15:

  1. Think about the misunderstandings among the people when they’re at different tiers when they talk about the same topic. For example: In an election, a candidate can talk about a better society which can be interpreted as having more freedom, making more money and so on.
  2. Try to shape your hierarchy of needs.


[1] Link to the previous post

[2] We’ve been discussing meaning since Ch1 L13.

[3] You can find many experiments about conformity on the Internet which demonstrate that people do things just because others are doing it. Here’s the link to one of them.

[4] Link

[5] Link to the first post.

 [6] Link

[7] Link

[8] Link

[9] One of the aspects of collectivism is being submissive and its outcome will be limited or no freedom. For example, kids have to choose their career based on their parents’ will or if they’re lucky the given options. The kid might become a successful and respected doctor or lawyer, but it doesn’t mean that they have reached self-actualization.

[10] There are always exceptions but too few to make it a case. People who try to motivate people with rags-to-riches stories should know that it’s statistically very unlikely. I don’t want to sound demoralizing. What I mean is trying to improve people’s lives economically and socially is a more reliable approach to raise more successful kids than expecting the individuals to rise above all the problems and make their dreams come true. These wrong notions are as effective as a scarecrow.

[11] Observing families hypnotized by their gadgets in a public place, restaurants, in particular, makes me really worried about the next generation whose future can’t be predicted with the current knowledge and tools. I don’t know how well the word “Family” can define them.

[12] Link.

[13] Link


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