COVID-19, Racism, Hunger? Social Issues Through Maslow’s Lens

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As someone who aims to someday dedicate his life towards a social cause, without yet knowing what that cause will be and when that time might come, I continue to look at the social issues around me and wonder what moves me the most and if one problem can be attributed to be at the root of all others, if there is even such a thing. And as the world battled between the mayhem created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rousing anger in the global community fueled by the death of George Floyd, as yet another reminder of the racial discrimination that plagues our society, it felt to me that there is no way of calling one issue or problem greater than the other and it all boils down to each individual’s perspective.

I wondered however, how many such deaths occur in the “third world nations” (as much as I hate that term, as if describing aliens, and interestingly the origin of the term from the non-aligned nations during the Cold War had little to do with the “poor country” notion that it now represents) just about everyday at the hands of police brutality towards the economically weaker strata, or the lower caste or members of other parts of society whose lives seem to hold less value than others. Why then, is there no such revolution seen everyday, in just about every part of the world, to demand true equality and remind the world that each life matters equally? The answer I felt quite simply lies in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Physiological Needs – You need food, water, and air to survive.

In countries where a huge portion of population spends most of their time thinking about how they’ll earn their next meal, and where the “poverty line” is set at a little over a dollar a day, and still close to a 100 million people end up below it, it is quite clear where the priorities lie. The physiological needs of food, water, shelter and so on remain unfulfilled for an appallingly huge portion of the world.

Safety & Security Needs – Money, Health and Crime

For those that don’t have to worry about this, then comes the need for safety and security. And unfortunately again, rates of crime in most parts of the world are so high, that calling any place safe, isn’t quite safe anymore. And so there is that other huge chunk of population that struggles with ensuring their safety, and also their security whether it is financial, or health, and so the millions trying to stay at home and keep safe from the pandemic also fall under this category.

Social Needs – Love, Belonging and Freedom…

Once we go beyond this, just as the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy, we’re now getting into the minority of the world’s population, that is beyond these needs and can focus on the 3rd layer i.e. the need for love and belonging. Now this brings us to a couple of different very topical issues that concern people today – fight against discrimination and the focus on mental health. If you’re lucky enough to have met your physiological and safety needs, you crave for the social needs, and this is where you need love and acceptance to stay emotionally and mentally strong and sane, while you also need a sense of affiliation to a community or religious group or whatever it may be that you choose. And so a lot of the focus on mental health, resilience on one end and discrimination, diversity and equality on the other seems to be most talked about in a certain strata of the society that doesn’t need to worry about the first 2 bits. While this does not take anything away from the seriousness of these issues, it does tell me that you’re partly lucky if you got to the stage where these are the primary issues that concern you.

Esteem and Self-Actualization – I’ll reserve for another time…

Beyond this, I probably won’t spend too much time discussing, because if you’re beyond the first three, you’re probably in quite a good place, and are striving to be a better version of a already pretty darn lucky self (and that luck could absolutely be a combination of chance and your own hard work).

Conclusion?

And what did I learn from this pretty long rant? That in my mind there is probably a starting point if we are to change the world, and it probably starts at ensuring that each person in the world is well fed and has access to the bare essentials of life. And by this I in no way imply that all the other issues are irrelevant (in fact I do deeply care about them, as you’ll find here), but if some day I do fulfill my dream of starting work towards a social cause, I think I know where my priorities will lie.