According to US psychologist Abraham Maslow, people have five levels of needs. As one level is satisfied, the desire to fulfil the next commences.
First come the basic body functions: eating, drinking and sex. Then a desire for safety and security is followed by the need for love, friendship and company. The next stage is for social recognition, status, and respect.
Another social scientist, Dr Clare Graves, applied Maslow’s structure to society itself – showing how the basic functions of staying alive gave way to the “egocentric” level (gratification, conquest and impulsive living). These are overlaid in turn by a more developed level, reflecting a society whose needs include an acceptable authority (democratic government, rule of law, divinely inspired or secular movements) able to create order through discipline, traditions, morality and rules.
Moving beyond these takes us to the materialistic level – characterised by consumerism and personal success. This is succeeded by the spirit of sharing, caring and community, typified, for example, by the hippie movement of the 1960s as well as many contemporary caring organisations that focus on the wellbeing of the planet and all its occupants.
The highest level of all is ecological, bringing human lives into harmony with the natural systems. We become able to live in a form of collective individualism, with a sense of spirituality that connects the soul to the world of creation.
Graves explained how the lower levels of social evolution are overlaid by each successive higher level so that even the highest level contains the lowest level. This explains why it can be difficult to transition between levels and why the veneer of civilisation can seem so thin – leading some people to revert to unacceptable behaviour.
But Kindness acts as a powerful catalyst – making it easier for each of us and so for society as a whole, infused and inspired by the spirit of Kindness, to become elevated to higher value social interactions.
Thus if we are to take the madness out of society and restore the balance enjoyed during earlier times, we need to reach back towards a human ecology that is consciously aware of those older values: nurture, care, cooperation, protection, unconditional acceptance, empathy, compassion, and connectedness to each other, to the planet and ultimately to the universe.