FW: abe maslow (fwd)

Craven, Jim jcraven at clark.edu
Sat Mar 8 19:42:59 MST 2003

The Right to be Human, A Biography of Abraham Maslow
By Edward Hoffman

            On April 8, 1908, Abraham Maslow was born in Manhattan. He
was a first-born son. He would soon be followed by three brothers and
three sisters. He was a scrawny kid who was smart but timid. Though he
grew up in predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods, the boy sometimes had to
walk through areas that were dominated by gangs of other ethnic origins.

            In part, Maslow's shyness was associated with a deep-seated
feeling that he was both different and strange. He encountered few
youngsters who shared his intellectual bent.  Until he met his cousin
Will Maslow at about the age of ten, he had felt himself to be so
different that he referred to himself as "the freak with two heads".

            He also was acutely self-conscious about his appearance and
fantasized about becoming an Adonis. "I was a very ugly child.I felt
peculiar. This was really in my blood, a very profound feeling that
somehow I was wrong. Never any feelings that I was superior that I can
remember. Just one big aching inferiority complex".

            His childhood relationship with his father was emotionally
distant. His relationship with his mother was a different matter
entirely. He grew to maturity with an unrelieved hatred for her and
never achieved the slightest reconciliation. He even refused to attend
her funeral. He characterized Rose Maslow as a cruel, ignorant and
hostile figure, one so unloving as to nearly induce madness in her
children. In all of Maslow's references to his mother - some uttered
publicly while she was alive - there is not one that expresses any
warmth or affection.

            He never ceased to remember with contempt his mother's
religious superstition, her threatening him with divine retribution for
the slightest childhood infractions.  Much more damning was the
miserliness with which Rose ran her large household. He recalled
bitterly that she kept a bolted lock on the refrigerator, although her
husband was making a good living.  Maslow as an adult remembered her as
an extremely unloving and rejecting mother. He also felt that she had
hurled far more hostility at him than toward any of his siblings.
Whenever he voiced his opinion in family conversations, Rose inevitably
belittled or disparaged him. Maslow felt that only the kindness and
warmth of his uncle Sam Schilosky, Rose's brother, had kept him from
falling into madness as a child. Yet neither Abraham nor any of his
siblings developed marked emotional problems.

            In early 1938 Maslow did summer fieldwork with the Northern
Blackfoot Indian tribe in Alberta, Canada.  The study focused on the
study of dominance and emotional security among members of the Blackfoot
tribe. Approximately 800 Blackfoot inhabited an area some forty miles
long and five miles wide between the CP Railroad and the Bow River. The
reserve adjoined two white villages, each numbering just a few hundred
people. This is where the Blackfoot did most of their shopping. The
tribe had their own office, hospital and social hall. Maslow came to
despise the whites whom he found hateful and small-minded, and to
greatly admire the Indians.

            At the time of Maslow's study, the Alberta Blackfoot were
the only self-supporting Indian tribe in Canada from a fund they earned
from the sale of land. Most of the Indians raised wheat and oats, with
only fair success. Some Indians worked as ranchers or took odd jobs for
extra cash.

            When Maslow tried to apply his dominance test to the
Blackfoot, he soon found out that it just didn't work like it did with
white people. There were very few examples of a man who was more
dominant, or one who was more timid. These people were so emotionally
secure in their cultural setting that the test that worked so well for
white people showed hardly any blips. The Blackfoot suffered far less
from self-doubt and self-consciousness than people in the mainstream
competitive societies.

            The Indians loved and spoiled their children; yet at the
same time they gave them adult responsibilities from a very young age.
Maslow noticed that misbehaviour was rare among Blackfoot children. He
saw a seven-year-old boy go off to the woods by himself for three days
to meditate on an important decision. There was a warmth and closeness
among social relations in general with the tribe. Visiting or staying
overnight with both relatives and friends was frequent.

            This one summer with the Blackfoot made Maslow permanently
abandon his notion of cultural relativity. Thereafter, he rejected the
concept as erroneous and an obstacle to understanding human nature. He
would write:

            "It would seem that every human being comes at birth into
society not as a lump of clay to be moulded by society, but rather as a
structure which society may warp or suppress or build upon. My
fundamental data supporting this feeling is that my Indians were first
human beings and secondly Blackfoot Indians, and also that in their
society I found almost the same range of personalities as I find in our
society - with, however, very different modes in the distribution

            Maslow went on to a distinguished career in behavioural
psychology, becoming famous for his original work on "the peak
experience", "self-actualization" and "the dominance theory", among
others. In 1967 he struck up a lively correspondence with A.D. Fisher, a
young anthropologist in Canada who was studying the Blackfoot Indians.
Maslow was shocked to learn that nearly all of the Blackfoot culture was
gone. They had become one of Alberta's most impoverished Native American
tribes. Many families had been broken up, with illegitimacy common and
alcoholism rampant. Even murder took place on the once-quiet
reservation. Precious little was left of the altruism or the warm
fellowship and extended family closeness that had touched Maslow so
deeply in 1938 and given him important insight into human nature.

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