Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Sublimity of Friendship: Redefining the Need Hierarchy

Today, August 5, 2012 is celebrated as the Friendship Day. As the dictionary defines, friends are those who are not connected by family relationships but who have mutual attachment and affection for each other. Every individual as he or she grows in life relies on friends and friendship to seek support, guidance and fulfillment beyond the family. Close friendship has a sublime and overarching impact on one’s life, with friends being relied upon for thoughts, actions and guidance which even the family members cannot offer. Friendship which starts from childhood tends to be a lifelong friendship. It is, however, possible that friendship between adults based on mutual respect, affection and caring could also emerge as a lifetime development. A true friend understands and fulfills the needs of the other, without the other ever having to express. True friendship never seeks reciprocity; it is also not an accounting transaction of give and take, in any dimension.

Need fulfillment is the key to one’s equanimity with life. Upbringing, education and experience teach one to seek needs, fulfill the needs and also to moderate them. The unpredictability and harshness of life, however, positions individuals to depend on his or her friends for need fulfillment. This could be as commonplace as material support, as appropriate as intellectual support, and as sublime as emotional support. The unbelievable growth of social networking points to the omniscience of friendship as a fundamental trigger of life. Not all needs can be easily and effectively fulfilled, however. Many times, they require extraordinary understanding, patience, persistence and courage. Need fulfillment by a true friend is, therefore, a selfless act that seeks no name or fame, and would even accept suffering and sacrifice. No wonder then that the old adage says that a friend in need is a friend indeed.

Maslow need hierarchy (or pyramid)

If need fulfillment is the basic foundation of friendship, one may be tempted to analyze the framework of human needs to examine the nexus between need fulfillment and friendship development. Amongst all the theories of needs, Abraham Maslow’s theory ranks high. In 1943, Abraham Maslow's article, “A Theory of Human Motivation” appeared in Psychological Review, proposing five basic sets of human needs, which were further expanded upon in his book, “Toward a Psychology of Being”. Abraham Maslow attempted to formulate a needs-based framework of human motivation and based upon his clinical experiences with humans, rather than prior psychology theories of his day from leaders in the field of psychology such as Freud and Skinner, which were largely theoretical or based upon animal behavior. Very quickly, Maslow’s need hierarchy became a major foundation of organizational motivation theories.

Maslow proposes the need hierarchy as comprising physiological, safety, social, esteem and self-actualization needs. This hierarchy is also proposed as a need pyramid with a large number of physiological needs serving as the base of the pyramid, and the self-actualization needs serving as the apex. Safety, social and esteem needs form the mid-tier needs. The basis of Maslow's theory of motivation is that human beings are motivated by unsatisfied needs, and that certain lower needs need to be satisfied before higher needs can be addressed. Per the teachings of Abraham Maslow, the general needs (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) have to be fulfilled before a person is able to act unselfishly. He believed that once a lower level of need is fulfilled he seeks a higher level of need, and the lower level of need no longer motivates.

Friendship through inverted need pyramid

True friendship follows a inverted pyramid, wherein it provides self-actualization ahead of any other deficit need of a person. A true friend helps the other to realize his or her true intrinsic potential. He understands the capabilities of a person who could soar higher but needs support, and provides the needed encouragement and intellectual support to realize the full capability. In the good old days of school and college education, it was never unusual for the more endowed to help out the less brilliant classmate bridge the knowledge gaps. True friends also complement, synergizing each other’s strengths and helping each other overcome the respective weaknesses. Self-actualization in an ecosystem of friendship has been the foundation of many entrepreneurial journeys. While the stories of Microsoft and Sony friendship foundations are well known, there are examples in India too. In the South Indian movie industry, ace producer Nagi Reddy and creative writer Chakrapani were two friends who founded and nurtured the vast Vijaya production house.

True friendship seeks no esteem. There is perhaps no better description of esteem-free friendship than the friendship of Lord Krishna and the poor, humble Kuchela in the Indian mythology. A true friend never looks at his friends through a lens of esteem. Nor does he ever forget his humble origins or the friends of humble origins, as the case may be. In true friendship, material issues do not color or influence the approach towards each other. True friendship, as was known in earlier generations, was never viral; nor was it in the mode of mass socialization. The infectious friendship fever of today’s social network sites is an instantaneous enabler but lacks the core emotional connect of the yesteryears’ true and close friendship. Yet, there exist instances of instant social connectivity over Facebook and Twitter, which saved lives and promoted positive causes. Personal knowledge is not a sine qua non to help in friendly causes in these contemporary times.

That true friendship provides safety goes without saying. The assurance that friends provide often encourages talented and indigent people find their mark. The role of true friendship in looking after the needy in terms of their physiological needs is also remarkable. Sharing of what one has with the other provides pure joy to both the giver and receiver. Many movie moguls and business magnates passionately recall how the shelter and food provided by others provided sustenance and optimism to stay on in the pursuit of seemingly difficult goals. The ability to give a break to a friend in life is a vital characteristic of friendship. Instances abound of right introductions helping capable people achieve exceptional, yet highly deserved, transformations in life.

Friendship circles

Typically, friendship is an expanse of expanding and intersecting circles. One typically has in the outermost circle all the acquaintances. People feel obliged, rather than intrinsically motivated, to keep track of each other’s progress periodically. Many a time, they are connected through social networking sites, and the real emotions and the true vibes are never likely to be known. This may be called the acquaintance circle. The next inner circle is the circle of friends who have personally experienced the attributes of each other and had been part of life’s journeys in schools, colleges and professions. Typically, this circle is nurtured by a feeling of happiness with each other’s progress, and conversely unhappiness with any setbacks. This is the most visible form of friendship circle. The smallest circle, however, represents the core of close, lifelong and lifetime friends. Friends in this circle literally think and live for each other, with perfect alignment in intentions, thoughts, expressions and actions. One should be considered blessed if one has at least one friend in the lifetime friendship circle.

Ideally, the three circles should be concentric. This leads to an orderly development of friendship structures. Intuitively, introverts should have minimalist circles and extroverts expansive circles. However, in reality, an introvert could draw many extroverts into his fold, and vice versa. Also, friendship being a matter of heart and mind, and human heart and mind being capable of multiple emotions and intentions, it is possible for friends to be in multiple circles of multiple friends as they grow up in life, in any of the three circles. As one matures, however, life teaches that true friendship cannot be built on one dimension, and requires alignment on a number of human attributes, including values. The soft and sensitive attributes of pious, caring, compassionate, affectionate and positive living mark the ultimate definition of innermost lifetime friendship circle. It is an existence of sublime purity to discover the blissful joy of a blessed life.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on August 6, 2012

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