Maslow’s Triangle and Viva

As we celebrated Viva’s 25th Anniversary last year, our founder, Patrick McDonald, said something during our Viva Collective Conference, that reminded me about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow was an American psychologist and university professor who believed in focusing on people’s positive qualities, rather than solely attributing conditions to them.

As one of the forerunners in developing the idea of positive mental health, he believed that a lot could be achieved by addressing people’s basic needs. Understanding this theory on the hierarchy of our needs will undoubtedly lead to an appreciation of Viva’s work as the essential first steps toward a vision as ambitious as ours—to change children’s lives.

“For the very poor, sustainability is a luxury of the worried well.”

Patrick McDonald
(Quote excerpt from 6:08 to 7:25)

This quote doesn’t seek to undermine the importance of sustainability, but rather highlights the obstacles on humanity’s path toward achieving it. Patrick’s words are consistent with Maslow’s theory, which also highlights the limitations on personal development that exist when our most basic needs aren’t being fulfilled.

For Maslow, the intensity of our needs can be illustrated through a five-tier triangle with our most essential and urgent physiological needs at the bottom, building the groundwork for our more aspirational and metaphysical needs near the top.

Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus was very aware of this reality, as we can see him frequently meeting people’s physical needs, on many occasions before getting onto the topic of salvation. He would not only heal their varying ailments but even feed them, and, as we can see in the story of the woman caught in adultery, even defend them.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs often reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the workers in the field. In Matthew 20:1-16, we see this story play out where workers, who had only worked an hour, received the same wage as those who had worked the whole day. This obviously caused murmuring, as it would do today, but another consideration must be taken into account.

The workers who had worked the whole day had the comfort of knowing that they would be paid a whole day’s wage, so it meant that they had a relatively stress-free workday. The same cannot be said for those who joined later in the day, who would have been working while wondering where their daily bread would come from. They knew that they would be paid ‘fairly’, but that didn’t mean it would be enough. Working, under those circumstances, is work in and of itself – and the generous landowner in the parable recognised this.

Through this parable, Jesus intended to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like, and I believe that he also demonstrated that he understands how important it is to have our most basic needs met now and in the hereafter, by offering the guarantee of eternal life to those who could never have “earned it”, so to speak.

It makes sense that we should have to deal with poverty and child protection before we can move on to notions like potential, calling and fulfilment, and this is precisely how Viva operates. We create contexts through which children’s lives can be changed, therefore enabling them to reach their potential.

We begin by immediately tackling their physiological and safety needs, by focussing on providing poverty relief and child safeguarding. Our next focus is education, whether it be through our Learning Spaces that help children catch up and reintegrate into formal education, or through training them on their basic human rights, this is how we can begin to develop a sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Finally, our model is based on the power of creating and developing partner networks, composed of churches and other local organisations, into hubs that can serve as a physical and spiritual presence for them to thrive in. With appropriate support for their other developmental needs, this leaves room for them to focus on their self-realisation and discover their potential for themselves.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a practical, common sense approach to understanding the obstacles to self-realisation, and this is an understanding we can even see modelled throughout Jesus’ ministry on earth. It’s safe to conclude that Viva’s approach to helping children reach their potential makes sense.

Hugh Stacey, Supporter Development Manager