There are a lot of needs and aspirations that we humans have to fulfil in order to thrive.
How can we fulfill more efficient our needs?
Though humans have all the same basic needs (see levels 1-4), we can be very different in our ways to fulfill our needs. Unfortunately, we tend to fulfill our basic and social needs fighting with others (for more resources, for more social power, for better social ranks, for more social prestige etc).
My question is: How can we fulfill together all these different needs and aspirations in a more symbiotic way (symbiotic behavior)? How can we put together these needs and aspirations to be in synergy / complementarity (and not adversity)? What can we do in order to increase the level of human correlation, cooperation, inter-dependence?
Let’s take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
The first level, at the bottom of the pyramid, consists of our short-term basic needs, physiological needs: food, water, warmth etc. The second level consists of longer-term safety needs: security, stability, order. The third level represents the social needs for affiliation (love/ belonging). We want to be accepted by others around us, to have stable relationships. The fourth level represents the needs for esteem (social-rank). We want prestige. Within our social groups, we want to be recognized as individuals who accomplish things.
Maslow called the first four levels: deficiency needs, because they come from a lack of something. The fifth level represents the needs for self-actualization/self-expression. The sixth level represents the needs for self-transcendence: to unite with “something greater than us”, to experience and serve the unity of all beings etc.
The two lowest levels of the pyramid are important to the physical survival of the organism. Then, once we have our basic physical and safety needs sorted, we feel more ready to share ourselves with others and accomplish things in the world.
Most people can readily identify with these common levels of motivation. As we come to feel satisfied with our accomplishments and sense of social worth, we take another step towards self-expression and self-actualization.
Self-actualization and self-transcendence are different from all the previous needs. We don’t feel spurred into action by a sense of deficiency. Rather, we feel inspired to grow, to explore our potential and become more of what we feel we can be. Maslow called them growth needs while all the rest are deficiency needs. As we become more aware of ourselves, we are increasingly driven by a sense of personal meaning and purpose.
Maslow added the goal of self-transcendence as the final level, the capstone of the pyramid. The desire is to go beyond our ordinary human level of consciousness and experience oneness with the greater whole, the higher truth, whatever that may be. This last level is coming forth from a Universe-centered consciousness.
In short: We have these 6 levels of needs: physiological needs for survival and security, social needs for belonging and prestige and higher needs for self-expression/ self-actualization and self-transcendence
In order to fulfill these needs, especially those related with social belonging and prestige, humans evolved specific emotions.
Robert Plutchik proposed a psychoevolutionary classification approach for general emotional responses. He considered there to be eight primary emotions—anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. The role of our emotions is to trigger a specific behavior, with high survival value.
As Robert Plutchik and John Steward have shown, emotions serve an adaptive role in helping organisms deal with key survival issues posed by their ecological or social environment.
To meet the immediate physiological needs (first level): (hunger, thirst, cold, injury, imminent danger, etc.) organisms have evolved physiological mechanisms that control specific behaviors that have the role to meet these needs (to maintain our homeostasis). The mechanism is simple: the lack of an important parameter in our body creates a specific sensation that urges within us a behavior that will ensure the fulfillment of that need. This is happening when we feel cold or heat, thirst or hunger. It is also the same when we are in imminent danger. When our eyes see something that the amygdala considers dangerous (we are about to step on a venomous snake or simply a friend scares us purposely), “instinctively” – an automatic response is generated and we jump up. Likewise, in the face of an attack that can prove lethal (lion or human, etc.), physiological defense mechanisms are triggered (the heart pumps more blood, the lungs can inhale more oxygen, all the blood is redistributed to the muscles and we can run or fight better).
To meet the needs of order and stability, belonging and social rank (the needs related to our social environment), where physiological (instinctive) mechanisms can no longer be effective, humans (mammals and birds in general) have evolved psychological mechanisms that urge within us behaviors that could lead to the fulfillment of those needs.
But how can you model a behavior that is not necessary for the moment, but for a future success? Here come emotions and emotional needs. Organisms have evolved a mechanism that connects perception (of the social environment) with emotions and behaviors. Our brain / subconscious processes thousands of information from the social environment, of which we are only partially aware. The purpose of this processing is to understand what social situations may lead to success or failure in the future. The perception is then translated into emotions. The role of emotions is to trigger specific behaviors that will ensure social success. An emotion is connected with a specific “emotional need”. The behavior triggered by an emotion is felt so imperative because of the specific emotional need that requests so vitally to be fulfilled. These emotions and emotional needs are strongly connected with a whole range of physiological transformations driven by hormones and neurotransmitters. We feel angry and only a specific behavior could fulfill our “emotional needs” for revenge, rage or aggression. The emotion and its need are driven by powerful physiological leverages. So, it is not easy to stand against their urges. Usually, they take over us unconsciously.
Emotions are strongly correlated with our physiology but also with our culture. Because they are mediators between our inner and outer worlds. They are an answer, a physiological reaction of our organism to a specific perceived social situation. This physiological reaction we call emotion.
Perception is the most important factor in shaping our emotions. In turn, the perception is informed by the worldview through which we perceive the world. A worldview that divides the world into “good and evil” tends to perceive as enemies everything that is different or unknown from what is traditionally considered good. A worldview that perceives the Universe and the Planet as a living, interconnected system favors a perception that sees collaboration and symbiosis everywhere. Therefore, the perception is very important and it is in our power to choose a worldview that promotes cooperation and symbiosis.
Emotions have the power to control our motivations, behaviors and even our reasoning and perceptions. That is why, depending on the emotion that dominates us, our reason can change so easily! Likewise, our perception can change depending on our current emotions. In a state of anger or sadness, joy or hopelessness, our perception and reasoning could be so different.
Emotions have the power to control our motivations and behaviors. Although we are not necessarily unaware of our behavior, we feel that we cannot act otherwise; we feel that if we act differently, something of our integrity will suffer. Most of the time, in the social arena, our emotions are related to our borders. It is obvious that as our borders are violated (for example, our honor is threatened by someone’s false statement), we feel that our integrity is being attacked. Although in current social situations, it is no longer a lethal danger, we act as if our very life depends on this reaction! Probably in the past, being lowered in the social rank could have proved a lethal danger over time, being excluded or marginalized by your tribe.
Dealing with a specific social situation requires a certain action on our part, in order to ensure a future success (to increase our social status (needs level 4), to maintain a good friendship (level 3), to assure our long-term security (level 2). When our social interests are at stake, we are invaded by different emotions. Emotions (and related emotional needs) urge within us a certain behavior that – theoretically – will ensure our interests, our prosperity or future social success.
This is the description of the basic mechanism: perception-emotion-behavior.
Most of the time, not being aware of this mechanism, we act reactively, especially when we feel aggressiveness from the social environment, when we feel that our social interests/ social needs are threatened.
I hope it is becoming clear what is happening: Depending on our perception, various emotions are born in us. They are manifested rather as needs – emotional needs – that must be met. It feels imperative those needs to be met because they are controlled by powerful physiological leverages. These needs primarily control our motivations that model a certain behavior that – theoretically – should help us win in the social arena.
Emotions – as well as emotions-controlled motivations and behaviors – have been shaped by our biological past. These behaviors and motivations have proven successful in the past. A certain morphic field of human species causes our perceptions, emotions, motivations and behaviors to repeat past perceptions, emotions, motivations and behaviors. We call them instincts. We call them “human nature.” It’s like a “given” to us.
However, under evolutionary pressures, our human nature has also to evolve. Unfortunately, cultural and social conditions are evolving much faster than our biological adaptation.
Therefore, for thousands of years we humans have been one step behind in terms of our biological / emotional / behavioral adaptation to the continuous and rapid evolution of our social environment. That is why many of us can barely cope with the challenges of life in our social environment; many of us do not feel at home; we feel that “something is missing”, that “something has been lost”, that “something is wrong with us”. That is why religions such as Christianity have found the “explanation”: we “have fallen from paradise”, we “have been cast out of the Garden of Eden”, something fundamental is “sinful” in us. I think the most appropriate explanation is that we evolve biologically slower than we evolve technologically. We are still biologically adapted to live in human-scale communities and help each other. Life in this super-technological society, although it has many technical advantages, is an adaptive burden for us. We are less and less biologically adapted to live in the technological world that we ourselves create. This maladaptation has suddenly increased since technological and political evolution threw us into this “VUCA” world.
Our emotional responses, motivations and behaviors have become increasingly dysfunctional: they are no longer able to bring forth future success.
Our species is in great danger: If we do not evolve, if we do not change our goals, motivations and behaviors – as individuals and society – we will not be able to thrive on this Planet (or even to survive as a species in long-term). We are about to destroy the Planet that hosts us, to exhaust it until it is no longer suitable for a human civilization as we are used to, but we are not able to change our behaviors (that drive the planetary exhaustion).
Butterfly Communities open-project aims to become an alternative social space suited for human cooperation and harmony. Cooperation and harmony are what we are intending; what we are wishing. This is what humanity – and Life itself – is dreaming from the beginning of time. Butterfly Communities aim to put our individual needs and aspirations in symbiosis and not in opposition one to another.
My question is: how to organize human relations and behaviors that our needs and aspirations to be better fulfilled?
Many people are called to write books, create “disruptive” economic organizations or organize training courses. My main inner-calling is to create a community that brings to life all these new concepts and discoveries related to personal and community development. What good is to read a book about nonviolent communication or symbiotic behavior or to go to a course on stigmergic cooperation or permaculture and then to return home only to continue with the same individualistic life strategies specific to the capitalist world in which you live?
My aim is to co-create an alternative social space, where our needs and aspirations are correlated, a space that fosters collaborative life strategies and symbiotic behavior, human inter-dependence and correlation.
It is obvious that, following the pattern evolved by the human species in the last thousands of years, we tend to fight with each other in fulfilling our needs. We tend to make decisions to the detriment of others. That is why the life of Red, Blue and Orange human communities has been an endless series of wars and a continuous struggle. It is clear that following this pattern we will end tragically, exhausting the planet. This way of relating has become more and more dysfunctional. We need to evolve a more appropriate way of social organization and relationships.
We begin to be aware that the behaviors we generally employ are driven by emotions and have, as their primary purpose, the fulfillment of our social needs (to ensure an adequate social future for us). We are increasingly aware that these behaviors tend to be susceptible and aggressive, because in our biological past we have met these needs by fighting with others. The slightest evidence of social aggression triggers an emotional response of defense and aggression in our turn. It is also becoming increasingly clear that this relational pattern has become obsolete: it is unconscious rather than conscious, dysfunctional rather than functional, and cannot provide the level of cooperation necessary for a fair, secure and equitable social life.
What if, instead of fighting each other (often unconsciously) to ensure our needs for social security/ social integration/ social validation, we would consciously collaborate in fulfilling these needs?
What happens if we consciously orient our emotions and behaviors to meet our social needs and the social needs of others too? (Holarchic perspective, just like the cells do in an organism.)
This is not something new in the human species: we do this when we love each other, when the natural empathy between us is triggered. We do this to our family members, friends and comrades. But from now on, this behavior could be employed consciously, as a wise choice, as a better social strategy. The main barrier against this innovative behavior is that, in order to be a successful life strategy, there should be a whole human community to choose to behave in this way.
Anyway, we can start to employ this innovative behavior in a way that could trigger a similar behavior in others. So, then we can cooperate rather with this kind of people. All we have to do is to employ a holarchic perspective that takes into consideration not only our individual needs, but of others too.
Let us start with our way of communication. Marshall Rosenberg noticed that our way of communication is aggressive. Why is that? Simple, because we have evolved to fight with others to ensure a higher social rank, that assures more power, more resources, more opportunities etc. Therefore, throughout everything we are doing and saying – throughout our behavior – we tend to outperform others. We tend to fight and be very susceptible to the slightest trace of others aggression and to respond accordingly.
Marshall Rosenberg has developed Nonviolent Communication, a more effective method of communication, in which we are encouraged to be aware of the aggressive tendency of our language and behavior and to temper it.
How could we do this?
It goes exactly to the essence: our language (behavior) is oriented towards meeting our needs. “Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.” (Marshall Rosenberg). He suggests us to try to decipher the aggressive language of others through the lens of their unmet needs (which that aggressive behavior seeks to fulfill). He also suggests that we to express as clearly as possible our needs and create among ourselves that state of communication / flow through which we access the natural human generosity. When a state of empathy, reciprocity and trust is established, everybody feels to help the other, to act proactively and benevolently in co-fulfilling their needs in symbiotic and not adversarial ways.
Our mistake is that we fight with each other, rather than cooperate in fulfilling our needs. When our needs are not met, we tend to blame others and behave aggressive with them. This makes others become defensive and aggressive in their turn, deaf to our words and needs. “All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.” (Marshall Rosenberg)
I envision Butterfly Communities as alternative social spaces where people join primarily for consciously evolving better ways of human relationship/ organization/ communication/ behavior. This is the “disruptive technology” that we really need to overcome our social and ecological crisis! Why not choose symbiotic behavior and nonviolent communication over egoistic behavior and aggressive communication?
We didn’t talk about the needs of self-actualization, authentic expression and self-transcendence. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once the needs of security, order and stability, belonging, integration and social validation are ensured, the basis from which we begin to develop authentic self-expression is created. The Butterfly Communities are designed from the beginning to be a space of cooperation and, consequently, a space for authenticity and self-expression.
In conclusion: creating an alternative social environment suitable for cooperation and integration of human diversity begins with an intentional community – in which members voluntarily join together to co-create a space of genuine cooperation and self-expression. Having a shared worldview and a shared purpose (as I said in many articles) is the minimum basis for a fruitful collaboration. A human-scale holarchic organization is also imperative to maintain transparency and ensure that moral and cooperative life strategies are the winning ones.
But even these are not enough: there is an invisible barrier against collaboration and it hides inside us: in our emotions and behaviors that we employ as a given of “our human nature”, although they are no longer functional and constructive.
Therefore, Butterfly Communities aim to go one step further, proposing a community built on a nonviolent mode of communication (improving the method proposed by Marshall Rosenberg) and on symbiotic behavior.
Symbiotic Behavior means that our behavior (and related emotions) will be triggered primarily to meet the social needs of those around us. Hence, instead of fighting one another to fulfill our social needs, we will cooperate.
Anyway, my social needs are not something that I can fulfill by myself, fighting with others. What we call “social needs” – of belonging and valorization – have always been the loving response of those around me, the feedback of my community that I would like to belong to. Symbiotic Behavior is just the full realization of this.
Why force through fighting others the fulfillment of our social needs, when we can fulfill these needs consciously and voluntarily to each other? What we need from others – to feel socially safe, loved and valued – is their love and appreciation. Why force this love (this response) through our behavior and not offer it to each other, voluntarily and consciously?
This discussion about needs makes me ask myself: a hierarchy or a circle of needs? How truly life is: a hierarchy or a circle?