We cannot live by bread alone
An American psychologist, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), in his 1943 paper ``A Theory of Human Motivation,” described what he called the hierarchy of needs.
The basic human needs for food, shelter, clothing and sex are at the bottom of a pyramid that’s made up of layers of human needs.
The next layer is safety needs such as financial security, natural safety (no wars or natural disasters) and security of health and well-being.
The third layer is the need to belong. Deficiencies in this need due to neglect, abandonment, or ostracism can impact an individual’s ability to have a normal relationship.
The fourth layer is the need for esteem, the need for self-respect and the need to be respected by others. The fifth layer, at the top of everything else, is the need for self-actualization, the need to fulfill one’s potential.
For most of us, the basic physical needs have to be met before our mind has room enough to look to fulfill the others. However, fortunately for the human race, it is not always so.
In his memoir ``A Moveable Feast,” written in the 1950s and published after his death, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) recalls his life in the 20s in Paris beginning his writer’s life as a poor man. When Hemingway relocated to Paris he had a secure job working for the Toronto Star as a journalist.
But he wanted to become a writer. He followed his heart and forewent the security of a salary to devote full time to writing. The highest need for a human being ― the need for self-actualization ― was so strong in him that the possibility of an empty stomach didn’t deter him.
In the book Hemingway describes how he would work very hard during the morning hours and then reward himself with a bit of an outing to let off steam. However he was too poor to go to a restaurant. He would walk around endlessly in the Luxembourg Garden to avoid having to look at tempting eateries.
He was aware of being hungry but was at the same time satisfied with the day’s work done unhindered by a full-time paying job. He sensed a heightened sharpness in his thinking with an empty stomach and comforted himself with that.
Hemingway’s choice is a good example of the scriptural adage that one cannot live by bread alone. And yet how many of us can be so courageous as to risk everything to follow our needs and actually chase after our dream and potential?
Hemingway’s first novel written during those hungry days, ``The Sun Also Rises,” was published in 1926 to great praise by critics. The New York Times reviewer commented, ``No amount of analysis can convey the quality of this book. It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame.”
The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded in 1954 for ``his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.” He is known for his great gift in language pruning. I am glad his need for self-actualization was met. We all have benefited from it.
Our human history is peopled with many thinkers, artists, scientists, musicians and spiritual people who saw human life beyond the full stomach. They knew bread was not enough. Their life had to have something profound and fulfilling. Aren’t you glad these people showed us their struggle and inspired us to look outside of the box of security and the easy road?
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), the great leader of the independence movement in India, led people by inspiring their need for higher things. He was able to convince the whole population that freedom from the oppressor was something worth fighting for. Even the danger of losing all kinds of security did not discourage their movement once they saw their higher need.
The suffragettes were a brave group of women who woke up to the truth that family security was not enough for their needs. They realized that the meaning of life fulfillment came from higher things. Their full stomachs couldn’t satisfy them. Their fight to obtain the right to vote was very important for their self-esteem and receiving respect from the males who were making rules was vital. They demanded justice and they suffered for it willingly for they could not live by bread alone.
Yes, there are still women in some countries that are prevented from this right to vote and run for office. But as a result of the effort of many over the years, women’s suffrage has been explicitly stated as a right under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the United Nations in 1979.
So in this New Year 2012, let’s stop and think. Am I OK with just bread alone? What is missing in my life? What have I always wanted and never actively pursued? Yes, take the time to become faithful to your soul’s longing for higher grounds.
To paraphrase the French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) in his book ``Pensees,” I keep asking: Who put me here on this earth? Why am I here? If I am meant to be here by God’s design, what is the right way to live? I have this deep longing to be rightly related to God and the people I come in contact with.
Early on, I recognized that I could not live by bread (or in my case, rice) alone. Are my needs met? I am working on it. I hope you are, too. Happy New Year!
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian now living in the United States. She can be reached at email@example.com.