At a time of personal crisis, one concept that helped me understand the turmoil I experienced and assisted me back on the road to recovery was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those unfamiliar, Maslow was a psychologist who came up with a pyramidal concept of needs. There were five initial levels that later evolved to eight and (working from bottom to top) encompass basic needs (physiological, safety, belonging, esteem), mid-level development (cognitive, aesthetics), and top level needs of personal growth and striving for the greater good. Maslow postulated that one’s lower needs had to be met before one could move on to mid-range then higher level needs.
It has been reasoned that at a time of crisis, for example after a flood or earthquake, people’s needs return to basics – food, water, shelter. During crises, there is little need for cultural or experiential activities. As basic needs are met, as people rebuild their lives, they move on to building a safe environment, finding companionship, earning an income, contributing to society, then on to higher levels.
How does this apply to the crisis of the corona-virus?
Rather than an acute single loss, there have been a series of losses, affecting not only individuals or nations, but the entire global community. You can see from the above hierarchy what has been lost. The upper layers, the middle layers, the lower layers. We have lost experiential and artistic endeavours with the ending of overseas travel, sporting and cultural events. We are unable to dine at restaurants, cafes, bars, go to movies or have large gatherings. The flow-on effects has meant a loss of financial security with people losing jobs, businesses closing, and financial and investment markets in turmoil. People have had to go into isolation, physically separating from loved ones and social contacts. Here in Australia, as elsewhere, we have lost that stable foundational second level of protection of our health (with the threat of the virus), our secure economic position (with so many businesses closed down), and an erosion of our civil liberties (it being mandated where we can and cannot go).
What does this mean?
Each step down each level is a loss with a grief process (shock, anger, sadness) for each loss endured. Everybody has lost the second foundational layer. For those who had them, the experiential layer is also gone. However, not everyone has lost financial security, companionship or their place in the world. Thus, the extent of pain felt and grieving for losses differs for individuals. For those with mid-levels intact and some semblance of normality, ‘keep calm and carry on‘* may be a solution. For others where major changes have occurred, people need time to adapt, then with courage respond in a meaningful manner. We have seen that whereby people in isolation are now undertaking artistic endeavours or contact with friends and family by virtual means. However, for those who have tumbled to the bottom layer of the hierarchy, everything has changed. For those people, fear and uncertainty are normal reactions and a survival response is key – that of fulfilling basic needs of eating, sleeping and finding comfort in some way.
My losses have been experiential activities, financial security, and a sense of belonging. I am an unable to visit interstate and international relatives and am physically distanced from friends and family in Tasmania, by self-isolation. Am I down at that bottom layer?
Not quite …
I still retain control over my thoughts and choices. My own need of self-empowerment is therefore not lost. As the restrictions and economic fall-out in place causing my own sense of pain and loss is necessary for the preservation of life, my own need of striving for the greater good is not lost. I am doing my part. Moreover, as I begin to fathom out how to climb my own hierarchy and regain lost needs, I will remember those in more grief than me and try to reach out in some way.
Over the coming months, on this blog, I will write about how I intend do that.
‘ Life is mainly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone;
kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.” Adam Lindsay Gordon
* “Keep calm and carry on” was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 aimed to boost the morale of the people in preparation for World War 2.