Maslow’s Needs + Aviation

11 May

Maslow proposed initially 5 levels, which in later years expanded to 7 levels of human needs.??The theory in simplest terms, is ducks need to be in a row at a given level, before much can happen in the next level/levels… For more detail see??’s_hierarchy_of_needs??This is pretty much FOI-101 for CFI’s, and the FAA and/or their educational contractors seem to make sure we see Maslow every few years during recertification

The seven levels in increasing order are: Physiological,??Safety,??Love/Belonging,??Esteem, (Aesthetics,??Knowledge),??Self Actualization,??Transcendence where in the aesthetics, knowledge and transcedence levels were added in later years. Obviously, like many things, its not bulletproof. Just ask most traffic controllers… and physiological needs during the workday are often thrown to the wind, same deal with them working without a contract for years and safety, at least for the most part is not affected. Note the criticism of Maslow’s hierarchy‘s_hierarchy_of_needs#Criticisms

Despite the such, it doesnt take a rocket science to see connections. Ie, if one doesnt have food or shelter, its unlikely they will be pursuing knowledge… but then again they might, albeit it will likely be much more difficult than if the lower levels were already satisfied. Same deal with the stressors a pilot goes through… ie massive fatigue or family problems, no matter how good the pilot is… will impact their performance. Sure, we can and do compartmentalize… but when everything is routine, thoughts often drift from the task at hand… ??we might miss a fluctuating fuel pressure, or a downward trend in the vacuum or electrical system.??

The thing is, few folks across society as a whole progress much beyond the esteem level… there does seem to be a glass ceiling between the deficiency needs, namely??physiological, security of position, friendship and love, and esteem, and the being needs (aesthetics, understanding, self actualization,and transcendence). Pilots, on the other hand, likely by rigorous adherence to two olsest statutes in the universe, (*the law of gravity and the law of self-preservation).??seem to progress to the upper levels more frequently.

Initially, when a pilot earns a certificate, they are often times at the esteem level. Ie self respect, recognition from their peers, a sense of accomplishment… but this certificate, as is often stated is a license to learn. Even the atp certificate is really just a stepping stone to further learning and understanding.??

Most flight instructors have experienced student pilots saying… why do I need to know all of this system, weather, aeronautics stuff… and likely may well have thought the same, perhaps even more so when doing a type certificate, or their commercial, than when they were a student pilot… but the answer is always the same. Safety… its not like they can go out, and rebuild the a system in the air, but should a failure occur thats not in the manual, system knowledge can save the day. Case in pt… ever see a guy try to pump the throttle on a 1979 152?…it doesn’t have an accelerator pump! Or another case… your airspeed drops to zero at 50 feet just after takeoff, do you know what happened, and what to do? Granted, such is not a mark of self actualization, but after 10, 20, or 30 years in the cockpit, multitudes of such scenarios play out, and true understanding comes into being. Combat often forces such wisdom as well, but in a much shorter time frame. My primary CFI, a B-17 instructor, used to say… when #1, and #2 are on fire and part of the wing is shot up, you become a true believer pretty fast.

In reading Maslow’s theory Z, I find much of what he presents in detail somewhat elitist, and over the top… but its exceedingly interesting to come across the following, which does seem to mirror the persona of the highly experienced older pilot.

14. My strong impression is that transcenders show more strongly a positive correlation???rather than the more usual inverse one???between increasing knowledge and increasing mystery and awe???. For peak-experiencers and transcenders in particular, as well as for self-actualizers in general, mystery is attractive and challenging rather than frightening. ???

19. ??? Transcenders, I suspect, find it easier to transcend the ego, the self, the identity, to go beyond self-actualization. ??? Perhaps we could say that the description of the healthy ones is more exhausted by describing them primarily as strong identities, people who know who they are, where they are going, what they want, what they are good for, in a word, as strong Selves??? And this of course does not sufficiently describe the transcenders. They are certainly this; but they are also more than this.

….most industrialists will carefully conceal their idealism, their metamotivations, and their transcendent experiences under a mask of ???toughness,??? ???realism,??? ???selfishness?????? Their more real metamotivations are often not repressed but only suppressed…


*Recently a man asked whether the business of flying ever could be regulated by rules and statutes. I doubt it. Not that flying men are lawless. No one realizes better than they the need for discipline. But they have learned discipline through constant contact with two of the oldest statutes in the universe – the law of gravity and the law of self-preservation.
Ten feet off the ground these two laws supersede all others and there is little hope of their repeal.

??? Walter Hinton, 24 July 1926, in an adventure article on flying in ‘Liberty’ magazine


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