“Why all the focus on self-actualization?” That was the question that a caller asked me last week.
“I see that the focus of Neuro-Semantics is now almost entirely about self-actualization. And yes, I have read the articles on the ‘Secret History of NLP’ going back to Maslow and the Human Potential movement, but I still don’t understand why you are making it all about self-actualization. Can you tell me why?”
I loved that question and yes, I was pleased to provide an answer. The reason is two-fold, first our aim is to enable and facilitate people becoming the best people they can become. It’s not only about empowering people so that they can “run their own brains” and manage their own states (the stated values and outcomes of basic NLP), it is more. Much more. It is about people learning to how get the very best from themselves in this adventure called life. It is about people learning how to be true to themselves— by becoming the best version of them. And when that happens— people become truly and joyfully happy, congruent, and authentic and that makes them healthier and wealthier. What a vision!
But there’s more. As people become better, as we facilitate people developing so they become better people, we make the world itself better. This was the very heart of Abraham Maslow’s original passion that explains why he devoted his entire life developing the foundations for Self-Actualization Psychology. About the cold war of the 1960s, 1970s, etc., he wrote:
“That system will prevail which will … turn out a better kind of person, more brotherly, more peaceable, less greedy, more lovable, more respect-worthy.” (1971: 92)
And writing about the frustration and anger that arises when people don’t have their basic survival and safety needs met, the frustration and anger that often turns into destructive aggression and violence, Maslow argued that what we need for our world to change is the ability to create better people from our families, schools, churches, and cultures.
“Destructiveness may occur as one of the concomitant reactions to basic threat. Any threat of thwarting of the basic needs, any threat to the defensive or coping system, any threat to the general way of life is likely to be reacted to by anxiety-hostility…” (1954: 126)
To put it as succinctly as I can: To have a better world, we have to have better people. And how do we get better people? How can we cultivate, world-wide, more mature, peaceful, democratic, respectful, loving, and self-actualizing people? What can we do to eliminate people from growing up to be greedy, hateful, ruthlessly competitive, prejudiced, narrow-minded, unreasoning, rigid, etc.?
The answer goes to all of the industries that are devoted to developing individual persons to be the best they can be—to parents, schools, therapists, trainers, consultants, coaches, etc. Yet that is not enough. The answer also goes to everybody who contributes and plays a role in developing and managing our systems—political systems, educational systems, religious and spiritual systems, economic systems, etc. In fact, all of the work done at the individual level can come to naught and negated by the systems that we create, endure, tolerate, and fail to transform.
Sometimes the problem is the system. In fact, the most persistent and complex problems we fact as a race is more often than not at the system level. And the problem with the systems are the frames that the system presents directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly. And today some of the sickest systems that subtly, implicitly, and covertly are “setting the frames” for people. These include the media of television, radio, and newspapers that focus so dominantly on the sensational pathological (what’s going wrong, what’s destructive, threatening, etc.), the Hollywood culture of sex and violence, betrayal, disloyalty, the sensational, the economic culture of greed, the corporate culture of short-term bottom lines, materialist goals, secrecy, the political systems of corruption, power over people, bureaucracy, etc.
In a word we can distinguish the systems that are conducive of self-actualization and those that are antagonistic and contrary to people becoming their highest and best. Merely having a psychology of self-actualization for the individual (which we have) is not enough. We have to develop self-actualizing psychology (sociology) for systems— self-actualizing families, leaders and managers, companies, communities, countries, politicians, media, movie writers and directors, etc.
To change the world we need to develop new ways of relating with each other at both the personal level and at the community, group, corporate, and national levels. Just as we need synergy at the individual and personal level to actualize our highest meanings with our best performances (The Self-Actualizing Quadrants model), we also need to create synergistic systems for our families, schools, communities, companies, and nations.
And to do that, we need trainers, consultants, and coaches who share this vision so that we —as a community—do that with ourselves (as an examplar model) and who can translate this in facilitating leaders at all of these systemic levels.
“Human society as a whole can improve. It can be improved, and it does improve. … Human society is improvable … and the task is up to us, and we can learn how to accomplish this effectively.” (1996: 97)
And that’s one of the key reasons for NSTT— to develop a community of world-class trainers and consultants who will join hands with us to change the world. Are you up to be a world-changer with us?