December 1993

The Positive Versus The Negative

There are several ways to structure the programs of Chapters of the American Humanist Association (AHA). Two are here under discussion: the Positive and the Negative. They are opposites.

The Positive Approach has as its premise that the main function of a Chapter of humanists is to study and present information about humanism. The Humanist Manifestos I and II serve as a guide, and programs from the humanities and the sciences are presented. Its basic assumption is that humanism presents an answer to that “basic interrogation” everyone makes of life and that the purpose of its program is to facilitate the process of becoming a humanist. It does not present itself as a crusade against supernatural religion but holds itself out as an alternative way of life.

The Negative Approach agrees with that part of the Humanist Manifesto II which criticizes traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions as doing a disservice to humankind and are harmful or inadequate in many other ways. Chapter leaders see it as their duty to point that out as often as possible. This is based on the assumption that people need to face the facts about religion and what is wrong with supernaturalism before they can change to humanism. Very little positive humanism is presented.

Both points of view are frequently forcefully argued, and it does not seem possible to resolve the matter. The letter by Richard Layton presents a justification for the negative approach. The positive approach is unfocused and disorganized because no one seems to be sure what to do. Under the Charter granted to each Chapter, it’s leaders are free to choose whatever program they want to follow and the greatest number of AHA Chapters follow the negative approach.

The present leadership of the Humanists of Utah have determined to follow the positive program, and as far as is known, our program is different from other chapters.

The Study of Humanism

I recently rediscovered the textbooks for a course in the humanities presented as a television extension course by the Salt Lake Community College in 1986. They are: The Art of Being Human and A Guide to the Art of Being Human, both subtitled, The Humanities as a Technique for Living. These two texts are authored by a number of instructors of the Miami-Dade Community College in Florida and published by Harper & Row (1984). It is not an appropriate program for our chapter, but can serve as a model to be followed.

Through these books I have gained a great deal of new understanding about humanism. I have learned that humanism is a way of life, and a humanist is one who practices the art of living, of being human, and that the humanities are the accumulated record of what humankind has done with its humanness. To become a humanist therefore requires a study of the humanities. Since the Humanist Manifestos I and II accept naturalistic evolution as the basis for its declaration, we are appropriately called Naturalistic humanists, and our studies also include the sciences.

Quotations from the Prefaces of these texts further define humanism and what it means to be a humanist:

“…A study of the humanities should offer a whole approach to living–accessible to all people–in which one makes full use of creative and intellectual resources in order to enhance the quality of one’s life…Being human may be inborn, but the art of being human is not. It has to be acquired…You alone must initiate the drive…Never is the spotlight turned aside from the central issue: what it is to be human, and what it can mean to practice the art of being human.

“…The art of living includes thinking about matters not directly related to the needs of the moment…It is being sensitive and alive to both the physical and the social environment…spending time in the company of the philosophers, the poets and artists, the composers and dramatists…

“A humanist…chooses the…deliberate actualization of…potential…humanists are people who make time in their everyday lives to read, to think, to experience new ways of seeing, more complete ways of being…They concern themselves with the quality of other human lives…It is very hard for a humanist to be bored…The humanist’s path, however, can be lonely, for society usually requires the very least, not the very best, of which one is capable…(W)e are not born with the knowledge of how to live a fully human life…”


What this means on a universal scale is best expressed by Sterling M. McMurrin, Ph.D., in his lecture, “The Patterns of our Religious Faiths”, the Eighteenth Annual Frederick William Reynolds Lecture, University of Utah, January 18, 1954.

“The strength of the humanistic religion is its supreme commitment to reason, its faith in [humankind’s] creative intelligence, faith that [we have] the power to discern, articulate, and solve [our] problems. The humanist is confident that under the guidance of good will, the patient processes of scientific thought may eventually win through for the amelioration of society and the achievement of human happiness. Nowhere is there a greater confidence in education, in [our] power to affect [our] own character or to determine the course of history. Humanism denies that there are uniquely religious experiences and refuses to distinguish between the sacred and the secular. It declares instead that religion embraces every worth-while human attitude and activity, and it grounds its moral ideals in the living experience of the individual and society. [The human being] is the primary object of its interest and devotion. Its instruments are science and democracy, and its goal is the good life.

–Bob Green

Abraham Maslow and Self-Actualization

It is a pleasure to meet with you this evening, and I have welcomed this good excuse to delve again into the life and writings of Abraham Maslow. Some years ago I enjoyed teaching a class at the University of Utah called “An Introduction To Humanistic Psychology” and Maslow was at the very heart of that enterprise. I’ve brought along tonight three handouts used in that class. The first portrays the context of Maslow’s contribution to humanistic psychology, what I chose to call the Humanistic Psychology Tree. [See handout #1 below]

At the roots of the tree you can see the many forces and individuals that nurtured the later development of humanistic psychology. At the trunk are listed the major voices of the evolving movement, and in the branches are listed some of the manifestations of the further elaboration of humanistic psychology–some of which are already drifting into obscurity. In the upper right hand corner of Handout #1 is a designation “Transpersonal–4th Force,” which in recent years has had great exposure, but (my bias) has lost much of the substance of the early stalwarts in humanistic psychology. The thrust has been mystical, “spiritual,” and too often anti-intellectual–(again, my bias.) At the worst it has talked of astral-projection, levitation, and crystals. At the best it has talked of the one-ness of humanity, realities beyond the immediately rational, and the richness of human intuition amidst the wonders of the cosmos. But lest we get lost in the ethereal let’s come back to earth by looking first at the life of Abraham Maslow and then some of his major interests including self-actualization.

Maslow was born in 1908 in a slum district of Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish parents who had immigrated to the United States from Russia. The fact of Maslow’s Jewish parentage was a burden to him throughout his life because he, like so many others, often felt the pain of anti-semitism. He also felt handicapped by the lack of nurturing from his parents. Writing of his mother, for instance:

Since my mother is the type that’s called schizophrenogenic in the literature–she’s the one who makes crazy people, crazy children. I was awful curious to find out why I didn’t go insane. I was certainly neurotic, extremely neurotic, during all my first twenty years–depressed, terribly unhappy, lonely, isolated, self-rejecting, and so on–but in theory, it should have been much worse.

Maslow started college at New York City College, dropped out on probation (he said he never could apply himself to courses that didn’t interest him), went to Cornell briefly, and then went back to New York City College again. The second time around, he reveled in New York City as an intellectual metropolis. His heroes were famous lecturers and writers. He listened to debates between Bertrand Russell and Reinhold Niebuhr, learned about the history of philosophy in free lectures by Will Durant, and attended two classical music concerts a week at Carnegie Hall. He felt he gained important insights and maturity in his own personal psychoanalysis.

In 1928 he married and also shifted his academic pursuits to the University of Wisconsin, drawn by its liberal reputation. There he completed his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. There, also, he began his career in psychology. Politically during this time he was an idealistic socialist. His heroes were Upton Sinclair, Eugene Debs, and Norman Thomas.

After graduate studies at Wisconsin were completed, he began his teaching career at Brooklyn College and was back in the intellectual ferment of New York. He interacted with the cream of Europe’s intellectuals who had fled Nazi Germany–Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka of gestalt psychology fame; Kurt Goldstein, who did seminal work with brain-damaged soldiers, and saw self-actualization as a key factor in human behavior. (There are those magic words, Self-Actualization.) He also interacted with Karen Horney, a neo-Freudian with a great emphasis on family life, personal development, and individual freedom; Eric Fromm, another neo-Freudian with a great concern for humanistic social institutions, non-dogmatic religion, cooperative social organizations, and an effective Socialist spokesman; Ruth Benedict, the noted anthropologist; and Alfred Adler, still another neo-Freudian, who focused on what he called, “Will To Personal Power,” which fits well with Self-Actualization. Now how would you like to hob-nob with folks like that?

Maslow himself became a prolific writer, adhering works now regarded as classics in psychology, including: Principles of Abnormal Psychology, with Beta Mittelman (1955); Toward a Psychology of Being (1962); Values and Peak Experiences, (1964); and The Psychology of Science, (1969). His many books and articles continue to be a gold-mine of information and inspiration to which one can return again and again for additional nuggets.

Maslow died in 1970 of his third heart attack at the age of 62.

Let’s turn now to some major themes in Maslow’s writings–themes which came to be known as Third Force Psychology (The first two forces were Freudianism and Behaviorism). The term Third Force Psychology has also been used as a synonym for humanistic psychology.

We can begin with Maslow’s now famous theory of basic needs, usually portrayed visually as needs layered within a pyramid drawing. [See handout #2 below] At the bottom of the pyramid are our physiological needs–rock bottom survival needs for air, water, food, shelter, sleep, and sex. The second layer contains safety and security needs–our need for a sense of security in a predictable world with a relative absence of threat to ourselves. The third layer designates love and belongingness needs–our need for warm, interpersonal sharing, love and affection, and affiliation. The fourth layer designates self-esteem and esteem by others–our need for a sense of confidence and competence, achievement, independence and freedom. At the top of the pyramid are self-actualization needs–our need for growth, development, utilization of potential, i.e., to become more and more what we are capable of becoming.

Maslow deemed these needs to be species-wide, apparently unchanging, and genetic or instinctual in origin: needs both physiological and psychological. Also, and this is an important point, Maslow said the pyramid represents a hierarchy of needs, with the strongest at the bottom moving toward the weakest at the top. Maslow said that as lower needs are met, the higher needs emerge, a process he called “metamotivation”, and which we can call growth, the self-actualization process, or movement toward “full humanness”. (Parenthetically, we can note that much of the world’s population has always been preoccupied with satisfying the basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid, and has not had the luxury of being concerned about the needs higher on the pyramid. When one is starving, there probably is little concern for self-actualization.)

It was Maslow’s contention that we can learn the most about humans by studying exceptionally healthy, mature people–the “growing top” of humanity. Such persons Maslow selected from his acquaintances and friends, public persons, living and dead, and selected college students. His initial definition of self-actualization was: “the full use and exploitation of talent, capacities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and doing the best that they are capable of doing.” Maslow felt he saw such qualities in such notables as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Adams, William James, Albert Schweitzer, and Aldous Huxley.

Among the characteristics of self-actualized persons would be the following–and these are quotations taken from Frank Soble’s book, The Third Force: The Psychology Of Abraham Maslow

“The psychologically healthy individual is highly independent, yet at the same time, enjoys people.”

“They are sometimes seen by others as being remote and detached because, while they enjoy the company of others, they do not need other people. They rely fully upon their own capacities.”

“They are governed far more by inner directives, their own nature, and natural needs than by the society or the environment. Since they depend less on other people, they are less ambivalent about them, less anxious, and also less hostile, less needful of their praise and their affection. They are less anxious for honors, prestige and rewards.”

“They tend to form deep, close personal friendships, deeper than those of the average adult.”

“…self-actualizing people enjoy life more–not that they don’t have pain, sorrow, and troubles, just that they get more out of life. They appreciate it more; they have more interests; they are more aware of beauty in the world. They have less fear and anxiety, and more confidence and relaxation. They are far less bothered by feelings of boredom, despair, shame, or lack of purpose.”

And the final quotation:

“They never tire of life. They have the capacity to appreciate the sunrise or sunset, or marriage, or nature, again and again.”

A related area of study for Maslow was what he called “peak experiences”–moments when individuals feel at their very best, moments of great awe, intense happiness, rapture, bliss, ecstasy. He would ask people to describe “the single most joyous happiest, most blissful moment of your whole life.”

Maslow felt that persons having “peak experiences,” or moments of self-actualization, typically feel better, stronger, and more unified–the world looks better, more unified, and honest. He found peak experiences to have most of the characteristics traditionally ascribed to religious experiences from nearly every creed and faith. “Is it not meaningful also”, he asked, “that the mystic experience has been described in almost identical words by people in every religion, every era, in almost every culture?” Such questions by Maslow set the stage for later expressions of transpersonal psychology.

The final theme area of Maslow’s that I will mention was his study of values. An important aspect of his Third Force theory was the belief that there are values or moral principles common to the entire human species, cross culturally, which are biologically based and which can be scientifically confirmed and are exemplified by the best persons in every society. These are sweeping assertions! For your consideration, these values are listed in a third handout [see handout #3]. They are deemed to be part of the self-actualization needs. Maslow thought the one over-arching, ultimate value for mankind was the realization of human potentiality, becoming fully human, everything that each person can become.

He vigorously denied that everything is subject to cultural relativity, and he deplored science and especially psychology opting out of the study of values. He said, “humans need a philosophy of life, religion, or a value system, just as they need sunlight, calcium, and love.”

Maslow coined the term, Eupsychia, to describe the implementation of self-actualization values, i.e., the creation of a society of maximal self-actualization for all persons. I think this quotation of Maslow’s is a good note to close on:

“That society is good which fosters the fullest development of human potentials, of the fullest degree of humanness.”

–Hugh Gillilan

Dr. Gillilan, A.B., 1955, Ohio University; M.A., 1959, Northwestern University; Ed.D., 1970, University of Utah, is in private practice as a Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist. From 1961 to 1969, he was minister of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. He has taught at Westminster College and the University of Utah. A member of several professional associations, he is currently President of the Utah Psychological Association.

Handout #1

The Humanistic Psychology Tree

Liberation MovementsFemale & MaleTherapiesClient-Centered
Transactional Analysis (Eric Berne)
Radical therapy
Rational-emotive (Albert Ellis)
Self-actualizing (Everett Shostrom)Association for Humanistic Psychology, 1962Philosophical HumanismPetrarch
The Reformation
EnlightenmentEastern ThoughtHinduism
Zen Buddhism
ConfucianismGrowth CentersEsalen, et. al.
Encounter Groups
(William Schutz)
Sensitivity training
National Training Labs
Assertiveness training
EducationHumanistic education
Value clarification (Sidney Simon)
Effectiveness Training
PET etc.(Thomas Gordon)American Psychological AssociationDiv. 32 Humanistic Psychology 1971Carl Rogers
Abraham Maslow
Erich Fromm
Rollo May
Sidney Jourard
Alan Watts
Fritz Perls
Viktor Frankl
James Bugental
Tony Sutich
Clark Moustakas
Albert Ellis
Everett Shostrom
Charlotte BuhlerHuman Potential MovementGardner Murphy
Herbert Otto
Cal TaylorOther PhilosophersJohn Dewey
Ralph W. Emerson
Henry ThoreauExistentialismKierkegaard
Transpersonal – “4th Force”Meditation, TM
Parapsychology (J.B.Rhine)
Consciousness expansionHolistic Health Movement
Body Work”Massage
Structural Integration
(Rolfing – Ida Rolf)
Bioenergetics (Alex.Lowen)
Alexnder Technique (F.
Matthias Alexander)
Feldenkrais (Moshe
Primal scream(ArthurJanov)
Sensory Awareness(C.Selver)
YogaNeo-Freudian/Self (ego)PsychologyAlfred Adler
Carl Jung
Karen Horney
Harry Sullivan
Otto Rank
Wilhelm Reich
William James
Kurt Goldstein
Gordon Allport
Henry MurrayClassical GestaltWolfgang Kohler
Kurt Lewin
Kurt Koffka
Max Wertheimer

Handout #2

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Self Actualization Needs

  • Self Actualization
  • Truth
  • Beauty
  • Aliveness
  • Individuality
  • Perfection
  • Completion

Growth Needs

  • Justice

Being Values

  • Order


  • Simplicity
  • Richness
  • Playfulness
  • Effortlessness
  • Self Sufficiency
  • Meaningfulness

  • Self Esteem
  • Esteem By Others

  • Love and Belongingness

Basic Needs

  • Safety (Deficiency Needs)
  • Security

  • Physiological
  • Air, Water, Food, Shelter, Sleep, Sex

  • The External Environment
  • Preconditions For Need Satisfaction
  • Freedom, Justice, Orderliness
  • Challenge (Stimulation)

*Growth needs are taken from: The Third Force
all of equal importance by Colin Wilson
(not hierarchical).

Handout #3

Behaviors Leading to Self-Actualization

(1.) Self-actualization processes begin to occur by experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption.(1.) To become totally absorbed in a task; to lose yourself in a job or while interacting with another person or other people.
(2.) One moves toward self actualization by thinking of life as a process of choices, one after another. These choices involve being honest with oneself and others or being dishonest; whether to tell the truth or lie.(2.) To make choices that seem right to you as a unique person. To be honest in your feelings with yourself and others. Not to be phony.
(3.) When one realizes that one has a unique self to express and one begins to express how to feel about things, this is considered to be moving along the road toward self-actualization.(3.) To realize that you are a unique person. To listen to yourself, rather than do what others have taught you to do or believe.
(4.) When in doubt, be honest rather than not.(4.) Be responsible toward yourself by being honest in responding to the world. Or, when in doubt, act according to your impulses.
(5.) When one dares to listen to oneself…at each moment in life, and to say calmly, “No, I don’t like such and such.” To be courageous rather than afraid is another version of the same thing.(5.) To speak out and say how you feel about a painting or an unusual situation, even if you risk being unpopular.
(6.) Self-actualization is not only an end state, but also the process of actualizing one’s potentialities at any time, in any amount.(6.) Using your intelligence; working hard to be the best you can in whatever field you want to go into. It may mean going through a period of time when you work very hard in order to attain a certain goal.
(7.) Peak experiences are transient moments of self-actualization.(7.) When you become one with your environment, another person or an object such as a tree, a sunset, etc.
(8.) Finding out who one is, what one is, what one likes, what one doesn’t like, what is good for one and what bad, where one is going and what one’s mission is–opening oneself up to one’s self–means the exposure of psychopathology. Inadequate ways of relating to oneself, others, and the world in general.(8.) When we get to know ourselves, there may be things that we see that we don’t like; things that get in the way of seeing the world and others as they are. We have to learn to drop these; this may be painful.