I don’t remember what piqued my interest in this subject, but I’ve been letting my thoughts on it brew for some time now and a pattern has become clear. Each generation’s life experiences (since the beginning of the 1900s) correlates to a different level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Knowing this, my friends, resolves so many of the misunderstandings and conflicts between generations of people.
I know, I know…I’ve lost you and I sound like a crazy person talking about a boring topic that has nothing to do with you. Hear me out anyway.
We’ve already learned this:
In 1943, an American psychologist named Abraham Maslow wrote that human beings have needs, ranging from the basics (health and safety) up to the pinnacle (social and ego). The higher needs can not be obtained until the lower needs are met.
For example, if someone is food insecure or is in fear of being abused, all their focus goes toward survival, where there is no emotional means for ego or an expression of creativity. The continuum goes on up the pyramid.
Okay, boring stuff over. Let’s get to my breakthrough. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
This generation represents the very bottom level on the pyramid of needs. Most people lived an agrarian lifestyle where the entire day, every day, was spent ensuring food stability. Add in the major blow of the Great Depression and you end up with an entire society who can care for nothing but attaining food, clean water, and a warm place to rest.
This generation also experienced a double whammy, the Great War. This lumps many of these people with the next-to-bottom level of the pyramid…safety.
This generation has some lapse with the prior and proceeding generation due to the many military servicemen/women having experienced heavy trauma abroad, as well as their families back home waiting for the dreaded telegram.
Later, the mass public was being traumatized with the any-second possibility of nuclear holocaust.
In other words, as long as you were safe from your enemies, then you had nothing else to complain about!
Love and Belonging
With the basic needs of health and safety taken care of, this generation was able to turn its energies to the next higher level.
This generation had parents who were victims of war, and parented as such (emotionally disconnected). However, since their children never had to experience this type of trauma, they craved more intimate relationships and “deeper knowledge”.
These disconnected children decided to find emotional connection and more meaningful experiences outside their own families. They found them with free-lovers and drugs.
With the economic and tech booms looming, this generation was all about building their own respect through work. Money flowed into their purses and with it came large purchases to fuel their self-esteem and self-worth. After all, they already had health, safety, and love. Now all they needed in order to feel fulfilled was respect (fluffed with a lot of stuff).
Scholars, workaholics, ladder climbers, and heavy spenders defined this generation as they settled onto this level of the pyramid.
Finally, we’ve reached the pinnacle. This generation has everything…literally. So what’s left to achieve? One’s full potential, that’s what.
Unbarred by any other worries in the world and having been born lacking literally nothing in life, their energies are now focused deeply inward.
This is why you’ll hear phrases like, “Live your best life!” and “Just do you!” It’s also why many young people are shunning convention and living a more nomadic lifestyle, free from the chains and conformity of a desk job.
But what’s more…is that this generation also focuses further outward than ever before. They aren’t concerned about their own health and safety, so they have the ability and energy to focus more on the lack of it elsewhere in the world.
What’s My Conclusion?
My conclusion, is that it’s good to realize why each generation behaves the way they do. It’s not just to be grumpy, anxious, irresponsible, selfish, or annoying for no reason. There is a reason! And it mostly comes from living a different life in a different time.
My question now is…where does the next generation go from here? My worry is that, just as other times in history, something major will happen to knock our civilization down a few notches and we will have to slowly rebuild our safety, belonging, and esteem over decades to get ourselves back up to the self-actualization tier.
Or, the next generation will be the final generation. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, how about we give humankind a lot more compassion? Just because a generation on the whole may be leveling-up on the pyramid, many individuals are still stuck (through circumstance, trauma, addiction, or acts of others) grasping for survival, healthy dinners, hugs, unconditional love, acceptance, and the chance to fulfill their own exceptional potential.
Maybe Maslow missed another step. Maybe he couldn’t fathom a world where an entire generation is genuinely happy, has fulfilled its potential, and is solely focused on the needs of others rather than themselves. Could that be where we’re heading? We can only hope.
So let’s embrace each other’s experiences, learn from them, and help each other raise up. Who knows…maybe the next level is paradisaical glory!