Addressing Basic Needs – Beyond Maslow

Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs humans require to survive and thrive. Before his ground-breaking theory, Maslow did something that was revolutionary at the time. Maslow began to focus on the relationship between the psychologist and the patient (whom he called “clients”). Instead of focusing on the pathology, Maslow focused on identifying and addressing personal growth and unmet needs such as food, shelter and security. Maslow argued that these basic needs must be met before other, higher needs such as belonging and self- actualization, could be sought.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


In the context of conflict mitigation, understanding people’s basic needs provides insight in the root causes of conflict. By attending to those basic needs (or interests) you are more likely to resolve the conflict. The drive to obtain basic needs is intractable; that nothing can compel an individual to forgo or abandon their drive for the need.

With much respect for Maslow, I believe that basic needs do not occur, necessarily, in a sequential order and are not limited to those identified by Maslow. For example, rights and freedoms, justice and belonging can be equally important as food shelter or safety.

Consider the basic needs people are willing to forgo in favour of another. When people are seeking justice or wanting to exercise a freedom or right that need can be become the paramount need. Consider a youth that runs away from home or people that go on a hunger strike. Understanding the why requires being open to acknowledging a paramount need that can only be defined by the individual.

The image below is a rudimentary illustration of the fluidness of basic needs where the secondary needs can move into and out of the primary position. I believe that the substance of basic needs are individualized and can be most accurately expressed by the individual.