I love the optimism of the humanistic theories. I like to believe that given the option we will choose the high road and therefore do the right thing when the opportunity is at hand. I have always found it hard to continue to believe this in the face of cold hard reality. All I need do is scan the news headlines to challenge it. The news is filled with the grim dismal facts from suicide bombings, war and violence, and sexual abuse and slavery of children, just to name a few items on the endless list. So how can I continue to believe that there is a positive potential in the face of all the evidence to the contrary?
The following example portrays a potential of what Maslow and Rogers might have had in mind as they formulated the idea of self-actualization. On Saturday, I, along with millions of others, watched the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Prior to the game one of the players was given an award for being a decent human being. This young man stayed in school for four years, worked hard academically, but even more importantly he served his community selflessly. This game was his chance to shine.
All eyes were looking on court for this moment. In the second half of the game this star player fell to the floor writhing in pain. The team’s trainers immediately jumped into action, kneeling beside him. While the player continued to cry in agony, the coach flew onto the floor and knelt beside him, almost on top of him. With his face an inch or so from the player’s, and looking directly into the player’s eyes, the coach tenderly held this young man’s head and stroked his face as he spoke quietly to him. It was simply a remarkable and tender exchange. This private and personal moment was so beautiful that I found myself crying. I had the sense that I was witness to the real meaning of the tournament’s classic ‘one shining moment’ scenario and it had nothing to do with the game.
This was the potential human good played out in real time. The result was immediate as the player visibly began to calm down. Over the next few minutes as this tough no nonsense coach filtered out the thousands of rapid fans, the meaning of this important game, and looked into the tear-filled eyes of a young man in pain and in fear, he rose to the heights of self-actualization . This coach, a man of mixed reputation, who could be seen striding the sidelines cursing both his players and the referees, who apparently is disliked by many in the sports world (according to columns on the internet), displayed an act of nurturing and gentleness that I think defines the term. In that moment he did the right thing. He rose to the occasion. The integrity of that moment cannot be adequately conveyed. I’m sure you can view online to get the full import.
It has caused me to take a fresh look at the self-actualization concept and to wonder if Maslow was right about few ever making it to this level. Perhaps self-actualization is a brief opportunity rather than a separate destination. Perhaps it is these moments, some visible to many and some known only to a few, which truly define self-actualization. I know I was witness to it on Saturday. I wonder how many more times I have seen it and not defined it as such because it wasn’t lasting. It was temporary as in the momentary sacrifice of giving someone else a hand and not counting the cost. It was amazing in the selflessness and response to another’s need. This moment on Saturday was an example I can draw on to move beyond the headlines to see another reality in my students, my clients, my colleagues, my friends and myself. We can all aspire to moments of greatness such as these and more of us than Maslow imagined have arrived, even if only for one shining moment.
Patricia Myers is a counselor, an associate professor of counselor education, and doctoral student.