What Humans Could Be

Scott Kaufman in Scientific American:

Toward the end of his life, the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow was developing new insights into self-actualization – and envisioning an even higher motivation, which he called transcendence. He referred to his theory as “Theory Z“. To Maslow, “transcenders” are regularly motivated by values and experiences that go beyond the satisfaction of basic needs and the fulfillment of one’s unique potential. These “metamotivations” include a devotion to a calling outside oneself, a seeking of “peak experiences”, and a commitment to the values of Being, or the “B-values”, including truth, goodness, beauty, justice, meaningfulness, playfulness, aliveness, excellence, simplicity, elegance, and wholeness— as ultimate goals in themselves. Maslow observed that when he asked transcenders why they do what they do and what makes their life worth living, they often cited those values. There was no further reason why they devoted so much time to their work; the values were not in service of anything else, nor were they instrumental in achieving any other goal. Maslow believed that satisfaction of the “metaneeds” are necessary “to avoid illness and to achieve fullest humanness or growth. . . . They are worth living for and dying for. Contemplating them, or fusing with them gives the greatest joy that a human being is capable of.”

The Theory Z worldview is strikingly similar to the modern psychological research on wisdom. Wisdom is often conceptualized in psychological literature as involving an integration among cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions. This includes the ability to accept multiple perspectives, to respond nondefensively when challenged, to express a wide array of emotions in order to derive meaning, to critically evaluate human truths, and to become aware of the uncertain and paradoxical nature of human problems.

As clinical psychologist Deirdre Kramer puts it, “Wise people have learned to view the positive and negative and synthesize them to create a more human, more integrated sense of self, in all its frailty and vulnerability. . . . They seem able to first embrace and then transcend self-concerns to integrate their capacity for introspection with a deep and abiding concern for human relationships and generative concern for others.”

More here.