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  • Alisha Emerald

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

The first time I was introduced to the concept of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I was in high school diving into one of my favourite literary loves, John Green's the Fault in Our Stars. If you are unfamiliar with the chart, it's essentially a pyramid in which Maslow stated that in order to climb and reach the top, needs must be met in every previous area. The base of the triangle is our basic human needs, the next is our need for belonging and so on and so forth.

In TFIOS, the main character Hazel laments that according to Maslow, she is stuck at the second level, because since she is a main character dealing with cancer, her need for bodily safety and health isn't met.

I read something interesting the other day when scrolling through instagram. I try to follow a diverse group of creators, in all areas including race, gender identity, sexuality and disability. And one creator I follow posted a quote that said "We must be well in order to rise." Which got me thinking about this pyramid and the hierarchy of needs.

I've talked to a lot of fellow chronic illness and disability advocates and we are all in somewhat of an agreement that while our desire for the things near the top of the pyramid, like success, don't go away, they are often shadowed by our inability to have our basic needs met, such as the need for body safety and health. I was listening to a podcast a while ago and it was talking about successful people of color, and while I agree that it isn't impossible to be an individual of color and be successful, I do think there are a lot of barriers that stand in the way that aren't present for white or white presenting individuals. The culture, socioeconomic factors and community factors are far different for people of other races than they are for my bracket, which would be middle class and white.

I remember years ago pre-transplant trying to launch a business, but I kept feeling this obstacle I couldn't push against no matter how hard I tried. Now, trying to start the same business in a very different season of life, I realize I have far more capacity now than I did before, and I contribute that largely to the fact that I am healthier now than I was before. and I wonder what I could have the capacity for if I was fully able bodied, healthy and that need was met.

So my working conclusion is that you don't need to be able to effortlessly scale the pyramid Maslow presented in order to be successful. But it sure does help. We are stuck in a world where those who can't scale the pyramid for whatever reason are left behind. We lack the accommodations for inclusion and accessibility. When talking to a friend, I realized that we are living in a system that wasn't designed for us to succeed. Survive, yes. Thrive, no. But that desire to scale the pyramid, for success and to do great things doesn't just go away when presented with a chronic health challenge for instance.

And so we are left with the question of what do we do now? For a lot of individuals it doesn't matter because it doesn't directly affect them. This is a huge problem in our society as a whole. The whole out if sight out of mind scenario, which is why there is such a huge need for advocacy, and yet it seems to be a catch 22 in that a great majority of these causes requiring advocacy and visibility are also composed of individuals unable to, for whatever reason, access that capacity.

I'm still working a solution. Who knows if there even is one? And yet I keep returning to this: we're all in the same storm but we're not in the same boat. I know many, many individuals who are privileged and deny their privilege. Being vegan, choosing to forgo vaccinations, being believed by the healthcare and justice system, these things are just small examples of privilege not accessible to all. And it's not that we don't try, it's that we don't have the same capacity.

Just a thought before you judge another person. From a formerly chronic judger trying to be more inclusive

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