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  • Added September 2nd, 2011
  • Filed under 'Articles'
  • Viewed 1709 times

Faith-based Social Service

By Laura Black in Articles

Seeing ourselves in each other is the way to build hope and dignity.

Abraham Maslow formulated his now famous Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. Many of you will be familiar with it:

Level 1: Physiological needs Level 2: Safety needs
Level 3: Belonging needs Level 4: Esteem needs
Level 5: Self actualisation needs

The two things that were distinctive about the Hierarchy were firstly that someone had managed to differentiate these needs, and secondly that the needs always flowed one from the other: Maslow said that people would solve their Physiological need set before trying to meet the Safety needs and so on.

Much social policy and social work practice has now been built on Maslow's work. It was an idea whose time had come, that was simply so much "common sense" that it was never questioned.

However, there is a problem with Maslow's Hierarchy and it is this: people do not leave their self-actualisation needs until last. The search for self-actualisation and esteem actually permeates every need and every situation that people find themselves in.

Unfortunately, following Maslow, most social practice assumes that these things will be a by-product of the work: let's get your damp cold housing sorted and then you will feel better about your life. Get your spending under control and stop drinking / doing drugs and you'll be right.

The belief that esteem and self-actualisation can wait until the end is what causes us to stand over those who need our assistance, not stand alongside them. It allows us to be controlling, to say the ends justify the means, because we are assured that we know better, and that hope and dignity will result regardless.

But people do not leave their hope and dignity needs until last. These are constant needs, needs that are essential to being a person, indivisible from having or being a "self".

How might a person conceive of themselves without a sense of integrity of being?

How could any assistance to that person be meaningful if it did not also acknowledge their integrity of being?

Yet much of what is provided, and certainly politically pontificated upon (it is, tiresomely, election year again!), assumes this is not necessary.

If you have ever been sneered at by a shop assistant, talked over by a medical professional, talked down to by a helper of any stripe, or had your needs (and better knowledge of yourself) ignored; you will understand exactly what I am referring to.

Rob Kilpatrick is the Theological Director for World Vision Australia, and early last year he spoke at a seminar hosted by the Howard Paterson School of Public Theology, on whether faith-based agencies make a particular difference.

Rob believes, and has the evidence to prove it, that faith-based agencies, by their nature, do bring a something to the mix that secular agencies do not: building hope and dignity as a first priority.

In doing this, I believe Rob's work echoes John Wesley's sermons on the Catholic Spirit and a Warm Heart.

The call of the Catholic Spirit is to see others, despite their differences, as integral as we ourselves are.

The challenge of the Warm Heart is that of personal, transcendent experience. Any acknowledgement of this experience in us is inescapably an acknowledgement of it in others.

Maslow was wrong: doing unto others as we would never put up with for ourselves, is not the way forward. Wesley, 200 years earlier, was right: seeing ourselves in each other, is the first step in bringing each of us into the light. Laura Black