Are we there yet?

Its a familiar cry to anyone who has gone on a journey with small children. Before you have even left your own street the question “Are we there yet?” will be heard. Children, living in the perpetual now as they do, struggle to understand that gap between intention and action. We said we were going to Grandma’s so why are we not at Grandma’s? ¬†As they grow up they come to understand more about time, distance, anticipation. They also have experiences to use for comparison, a background which means 6 weeks no longer feels like an eternity.

As adults our “Are we there yet?” questions take a different form. We might understand time and distance, that wanting something is not the same as having something, but still so often struggle with completion. Not with finishing things (although that is a problem for many) but with the idea there is a finish, a final destination.

This often comes up in discussions of counselling, how will someone know they are finished? Looking more widely many people seem caught up in the idea of there being an end point, a moment when they can say “I am done” as if people are loaves of bread waiting to have their bottoms tapped. (If you are a fan of having your bottom tapped, all power to you) The problem is that the myth of a moment when we can say, as a person, we are finished, leads people down paths of regret, self attack and a feeling of failure.

The Maslow Myth

Any counselling student will know Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

Image result for maslow pyramid

There are a number of problems with the model, some of which have been pointed out to me by clients, always my greatest source of learning. For example for those with disabilities the “progress” up the pyramid can stop at safety, or even the basic physiological processes. Its also a model which assumes everyone wants sexual intimacy and to reproduce. It is, basically, of its time, produced by a white cis, heterosexual man in the middle of the last century.

It also, from its very design, suggests an end point, a reaching of self actualisation as a goal, a moment when we are finished. This may not have been Maslow’s intention, but it has been the result. Self actualisation presented as the end point, the moment when you can say “I am there”.

A process not a parade

Part of the problem seems to be the myths we are told around how life should be. Firstly that there a set number of events which determine how successful we are at living (Maslow’s pyramid includes a few of them) These events, graduation, marriage, parenthood, are very often public events which allow the world to determine that we are “adulting” properly. These can seem even further out of reach if you are LGBTQI, or disabled,or without economic resources, or simply if you don’t feel like should be like a race towards the finish line.

Its not that the ways of approaching the world suggested by Maslow are wrong, but that the idea of the process ending has become so ubiquitous that we search for an end point, even as we are supposedly learning acceptance, and understanding. Part of that learning perhaps needs to be an unlearning of the idea that we will reach a magical point of being finished, and instead accept that the process of growth, self knowledge, self awareness is such a powerful one because it ongoing. Once we stop preparing to parade in all our finery to the adulation of the crowds, like the emperor in the story then we become free to write our own rituals, not as end points, but as the way stations on the journey which provide us with support and succour.


2 thoughts on “Are we there yet?

  1. I like Maslow as a framework, but I think it’s good to say openly that the conditions that mark each level may be different for people 9which is what I got from the above).

    And it is much better understood as a “state of being” rather than of having, or going! And it’s certainly not a strict hierarchy the way it seems to be taken these days.

    There is also the idea about change, movement, and I think some people fear that is there is no end-point then there is no direction or purpose to their movement and that they are “lost”. I wonder about people who feel happier “in harbour” with a settled, stable point and thus tend to seek that out, and those who prefer the open sea and for whom that is their drive. And then I think about how most people actually have different balances of the two through their lives, and the balance probably changes as we go along.

    (See how quickly “Are we there yet?” turns to “When are we going home?”)

    Liked by 1 person

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