Politics and Self-Actualization

The battle of this presidential election can be replaced by self-actualization.

Posted Nov 20, 2016

Painting by Alexi Berry, used with permission
Source: Painting by Alexi Berry, used with permission

In the few weeks since the election, there are some celebrating, some mourning, some still in shock, and some fearing for their future. For the duration of this election it has seemed the country has been more divided than I’ve seen it. Kathryn Schulz, in her TED Talk on being wrong, says there are three phases one experiences when in conflict: The first is believing the other mistaken and providing more information. If that doesn’t help, the individual is thought stupid. If there is evidence the other is not stupid, they are then seen as evil. This seems quite apropos to the country’s current state. There are a number of solutions, I’m sure. In this post I’d like to focus on one, everyone working toward self-actualization. 

Abraham Maslow is an American born psychologist whose theory posits that we are all driven by needs, the utmost of which is self-actualization. However, most people settle for the comfort of the lower needs, and do not work toward or self-actualize (see my post, “The Psychopathology of Normal"). People who are self-actualizing (which is a process, something one works towards and never completely attains) embrace the B-Values (including: truth, goodness, autonomy, and simplicity). Self-actualizers also exhibit behaviors that embody being better individuals. What follows is how those behaviors relate to the nation’s current political climate.

A more efficient perception of reality- This characteristic has to do with recognizing both good and bad qualities in others, and seeing through facades. Both Republicans and Democrats would benefit from seeing the good in the other, rather than demonizing one another and what each stands for.

Acceptance of self, others, and nature- Besides a healthy dose of self-acceptance and accepting human nature, (which includes lying to oneself and being selfish [see my posts, “I'm Full of It, and So Are You” and “You’re so Selfish”]) self-actualizers accept others. This means they don’t try to convert others to their way of thinking, or feel the need to regularly provide information so others adapt their perspective.

Spontaneity, simplicity, naturalness- Most of this quality (spontaneity simplicity) doesn’t need explanation. This quality is witnessed in the behavior of self-actualizers. They may behave conventionally when the issue is not of importance. When the situation warrants, however, they may be quite unconventional, even to the point of being ostracized. In relation to this political climate, this might be witnessed as peaceful protests and comfortably expressing one’s emotions, including grief. An understanding of this could further foster compassion and self-actualizing.

Problem-centering- Self-actualizers focus on problems outside of themselves. Their focus isn’t selfish, and often leads to having a mission to help others in life. It would help cool some of the flames of distrust if both sides were able to perceive the way the other is attempting to help others unselfishly.

The need for privacy- Self-actualizers can often seemed detached. Although they have a concern for the welfare of others, they avoid the minutia involved in some of these issues. To a large extent, it seems nearly everyone’s political leaning is available on social media. No one seems to feel a need to keep his or her opinion private. Perhaps if one wasn’t attached to a political opinion, the larger focus of the welfare of others as a whole could be the agenda, and both sides could work together to ensure that.

Autonomy- This quality comes from the positive relations one has had with others, leading to healthy self-worth. Once this is attained, the self-actualizer doesn’t require the approval of others, and can rise above criticism or praise. If both sides of the political arena were less inclined to react to criticism, some of the damage done in the election process could be repaired.

Gemeinschaftsgefühl- This is a term that Maslow borrowed from Adler, which means a sense of community, belonging, and oneness with all humanity. It is obvious that both sides would benefit from a sense of community with one another. I’ve seen posts on social media about all of us living in this country together. Of course we can extend this to the world, such as in the phrase, “there is only one race: the human race.”

Profound interpersonal relations- This quality includes aspects discussed above such as gemeinschaftsgefühl, as well as those related to concern and empathy for others. But beyond that, self-actualizers have deep and profound interpersonal relations. Additionally, they prefer equal relationships to one-sided relations where they are held above others. Deep interpersonal relationships require the ability to converse in an open-minded fashion, something that would surely benefit the political climate.

The democratic character structure- before any of my Republican readers get up in arms, this isn’t in relation to politics or a party. The democratic character was defined by Maslow as treating everyone equally, and being able to learn from anyone. Perhaps if both sides actually listened to the other, without preconceived ideas of what each stands for, some actual progress could be made.

Discrimination between means and ends- Self-actualizers enjoy the means, they do not only look forward to the result. This relates a good deal to the recent election. If both sides could enjoy the process for what it brought them, and not be so attached the results, there would be less animosity. Of course it is understood the idea is for the country to move forward, and to be an example of many of the attributes mentioned. This is a process, however, and one we as a country must embrace not simply for its conclusion.

Philosophical sense of humor- This quality is a reflection of a positive mind state. The self-actualizer’s sense of humor is not based in negativity or hostility. Much of this campaign has been humorless and whatever humor was used was indubitably hostile. Moving forward it would be beneficial to find more humor in oneself. Self-deprecating humor is a hallmark of the self-actualizer.

Creativeness- Self-actualizers are creative. This country needs some creative solutions to remedy many of the problems it is facing. Maslow believed these people had a “keen perception of truth, beauty, and reality”. (p.271; Feist, Feist, Roberts).

Resistance to enculturation- This is the ability to transcend a certain culture. This relates to the political climate in that the two sides perceive each other as different cultures. The ability to look beyond, to rise above one’s own culture (and attached biases) can lead to a more objective view of the other.

In my attempt to relate the qualities of a self-actualizing individual to this political climate, I left out a couple of the qualities. They are worth mentioning. Peak experiences and continued freshness of appreciation have similar attributes, in that they involve seeing the normal world in a different way. There is an appreciation of what is normally taken for granted in our surroundings with continued freshness of appreciation. With peak experiences, one has mystical or transcendent experiences which enhance one’s life and connection to it.

In reading this, some may feel it is quite a Pollyanna approach. I understand that perception, and hesitated writing the post at all. The point of the post, however, is not to preach unattainable goals. Maslow believed everyone was capable of achieving self-actualization, but that the quest was largely neglected, and instead, the psychopathology of normal settled for. Perceptions are wrought with biases which often keep one from seeing more clearly. This approach can help cut through them. Finally, this approach isn’t simply about blind compliance and rainbows and unicorns. It is about doing what is most helpful, and that may require fighting or protesting or otherwise taking an unpopular stand. The post simply requests that before you do so, you consider whether that is on the path to self-actualization or selfish ends.

Copyright William Berry 2016


Feist, J; Feist, G.J; Roberts, T.A; 2013; Theories of Personality, Eighth edition, McGraw Hill, N.Y, New York; pages 266-271.

Schulz, K; 2011; On Being Wrong; TED Talk; Retrieved from: http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong on 11/20/16.