I’m the new kid on the block on my first time out with a group of community do-gooders and guess what? I can’t shut up. A well-meaning lady is determined that the important thing is to get the families out together. ‘The families’, meaning people with too many mouths and not enough dough, and ‘out’ meaning to the spaghetti dinner. But the part that has me riled is the whole notion of together. I have flash-backs to my own youth, which even still I can only recall in the third person: seven starving children and a basket-case mother and the last thing any of them want is to have to get somewhere together. Nobody has anything to wear ‘out’, nobody is calm enough around food to eat politely, and nobody is adequately socialized to make the impression that the kind-hearted lady is hoping for and they are all vaguely aware of this fact. The mother had earnest dreams about how the kids should be raised but it isn’t happening, and a well-meant chance to parade her sense of failure is hardly a treat. You think I exaggerate. I give you Maslow.
At some point most of us were introduced to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which, to paraphrase, suggests that people have needs of different urgency and that one need can’t be fulfilled, and generally isn’t even desired, until the more urgent ones are met.
Picture stopping to forage or grab a slurpie while running from a lion or a mugger. Picture someone telling you to get a job while you are looking for something to eat. What I see happening is a lot of well-meaning benevolent people trying to force opportunities onto people who just aren’t ready for them, can’t cope with them and don’t want them. A spaghetti dinner and a hard-sell to get families to go out together is many a person’s idea of hell. An invitation to get the whole family dressed in presentable clothes at the same time to go out and be social with strangers is something you’d do anything to avoid when you have collectors at your heels, a house that needs fixing, an inability to keep up with the clothing needs of your kids and a boss who exploits your mutual belief that you will never find another job. It is not a welcome thing.
What if we could invite Maslow to the neighbourhood? What if we had a general understanding that needs need to be met and absorbed in a certain order – a usable order? Could we envision our outreach within this context? Could we envision a united way of helping that makes sure everyone has food, shelter, safety and a few et-ceteras that come after? I’m not talking about political systems, I’m asking if we can embrace some generosity of spirit that allows us to believe that ‘no thank you’ means ‘I can’t use that right now, what else have you got?’ even if it sounds ungrateful?
Now where’s my Self-Actualization badge?