I love this hierarchy. When I first saw it, I was amazed by how true it is. Before you can reach Self-actualization at the top of the pyramid, you have to establish the lower levels. I sincerely doubt people who are starving are worried about others respecting them. They are more concerned with basic survival than social interactions, which would allow the Robin Hood type stealing-of-food-to-feed-the-family behaviors from an otherwise moral person. We are each at different levels of our development, and they probably fluctuate a little in your day-to-day. Not necessarily that one would be demoted in levels, but simply that priorities may be given to meeting the lower needs, before returning all attention to the proper level's needs.
I'll use myself as an example of this process. I used to be concerned with things in the Esteem category, but for whatever reason I have been struggling with my Love/belonging level lately. It's funny how easy it is to shake your world and make you re-evaluate your psychological standing. I remember not too long ago that I was very much concerned with eating--I felt like I was always hungry; and when clean bathrooms were seldom available, that was in the forefront of my mind all day. Now I have all my Physiological needs met, and I feel Safe in my employment, health, home, etc. So the next level is Love/belonging. It's interesting how we subconsciously know we need something before we even realize what it is. I have been craving spending time with my kids lately. I've gone to my sister's place hoping to see them because I know they love me. It took me a little while to realize that I just needed to remember that I have people who love me. Next I will (hopefully) strive to improve my relationships with others. I will seek others whom I can hold in high esteem, and try to live my life to be held in high esteem by others. That will hopefully give me the confidence to seek Self-actualization.
I try to remember this model when I meet others. I try to remember that you cannot expect higher level interactions with people who are struggling with the lower level needs. I try to be patient with those on lower levels, while expecting them to progress upwards just as I hope those on higher levels are patient with me. ...but sometimes I forget. And then my expectations are unmet and I'm disappointed. Other times I think people are on a lower level and they get mad at me for treating them differently than they expected. (This is leading into a topic for another blog entry, so I'll leave it for tomorrow...Relationships!)
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs also helped me understand things like eating disorders a little better. People who feel they have no control of their higher levels, use food (and other physiological needs) as something they can control. It gives a sense of power in their daily lives. Like, maybe if they changed the way they ate, it would somehow provide a sense of safety or belonging. I never really understood it, but now I do. I'm sure I've done it a time or two--like when I eat Ice cream because I'm sad (or happy, or celebrating, or mad, or upset, or...).
Point: Don't try to expect complex interactions with people struggling to meet their basic physiological needs. Help them do that if you can, and then, eventually, they will have a stable foundation so they can help you meet your needs.