July 1, 2013. The following blog entry is less a blog about events and more a musing I had about the community I had observed for most of last week.
For all practical intents and purposes, we are about to enter the third and final part of our adventure. As I type this, we are traveling somewhere between 60 KPH and 80 KPM on the road to Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay. In our caravan of three vans a variety of activities are being undertaken, ranging from sleeping, listening to unreasonably loud and obnoxious music, and quiet contemplating. Since the past two days before this one have been filled with “touristy” activities, I will use this blog entry to examine the week we spent in Monte Alto and Decak, small colonias 3 hours outside of the city center.
I must provide some background of the pre-attachment theory humanistic approach to psychology before I begin to explain my realization. The pre-attachment theory humanist approach in psychology can be traced back to Sigmund Fried, who I am not here to discuss. Instead, I will use Maslow’s pyramid of needs to clarify this point more clearly. Maslow was a psychologist in the mid-twentieth century who examined human motivation and created a hierarchy of human motivations that would lead to what I will simply call“happiness.”
The order of needs are:
- Physical needs: food, sleep, warmth, shelter, etc.
- Safety: protection from physical harm, etc.
- Love/belonging: Friends, a sense of community
- Esteem: accomplishment, respect, confidence
- Self-actualization: when all the previous needs are achieved and one can move to achieve full potential, which in many cases means moving to help others. It is evident in some of the qualities that Maslow assigns Self-Actualizers, most notably “fellowship with humanity.” It is also evident in the people Maslow gives as examples, namely Jane Addams and Eleanor Roosevelt. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs)
Perhaps you have already imagined a possible direction I may be going with this, but before you lose yourself in it, I would like to remind everyone that while Maslow’s theories are still taught, they have been replaced by attachment theory.
I first began to think about Maslow’s ideas on our last day in the Monte Alto and Decak communities. We visited a local soup kitchen which was not actually in Monte Alto or Decak, but was in the nearby minor city of San Jose de los Arroyos. When we arrived, around twenty hungry children had gathered in the area. Along with them several high school students were present, who volunteer at the soup kitchen every weekend.
In the soup kitchen, we all expected to be put to work, but instead we found ourselves playing introductory games, playing soccer, and watching the young children merrily play marbles. This left some of us feeling distraught. We had come to help out yet we found that there was nothing we could do, but provide moral support.
Not long after everyone had consumed food, I wandered outside to see some of our group observing young children play marbles. One in particular, Julia, was much more distressed about the situation than others. I decided to ask the semi-rhetorical question: “Who do you think is happier, that kid there, or you?” She replied that the kid was probably happier than her. I found this amusing and somewhat comedic. In general, the position this kid has found himself in would lead most to dictate that Julia, assuming she is not suffering from depression or another happiness destroying element, would be happier. This is the point where the application or linking of this new data and my rather elementary and vague knowledge of psychology came together.
In the United States and even more so in our group of students, we have, for the most part, the first two needs accomplished. In a lot of cases in the USA and for almost everyone in the group, the third need is also more typical. Also in our group, given that we have just traveled several thousand miles to do community service work, the fourth need could also be called a given. In contrast, in the small towns we stayed in, the people, despite being of much less means than many Americans, including the people in this group, had also achieved all of this to a much greater extent than any of us. As any logical person might guess, these people also seemed so happy and satisfied with life.
This is the sole contradiction with my expectations for this trip. For semi-logical and somewhat founded reasons, I expected less happiness or life to be generally more miserable than in the USA. Nothing else really surprised me as we had been informed of just about everything else. In reflection, I think back to that community; the community despite being considerably less wealthy was quite a happy one.
The idea that money doesn’t imply happiness isn’t a new one, but I believe the cut off for when money stops affecting happiness was around 75,000 US dollars (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opinion/sunday/dont-indulge-be-happy.html?_r=1&emc=eta1) Also, this is beyond just wealth: the general conditions or maybe the human development index (HDI, http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/PRY.html); the water isn’t the cleanest, showers are lacking, the roads are not paved, the internet is restricted to two inch screens, literacy in words or numbers is not the most prominent and exalted trait yet, people in this tiny community are still happy.
I won’t try to explain it or debate psychology that I don’t fully understand or isn’t “pure”science. To be honest I rather dislike psychology, and prefer the more “pure” sciences or at least the pure sections of some sciences (https://xkcd.com/435). The entry up to this point is a small sample of some of the thoughts that my knowledge of various sciences and philosophies has concocted when merged with my experiences here. My time here has not caused earth-shattering revelations yet, but it certainly has increased the a posteriori available to me. And on that personal note I would like turn to the last need, self-actualization, and also do a bit of reflection.
Self-actualization, the idea of reaching one’s full potential, is apparently inherently linked with aiding humanity. I would consider it a natural conclusion to attempt to apply this to what we are doing in Paraguay. Are we reaching a new lofty realm of happiness by coming here and being of service? I don’t think we are reaching a new realm of happiness; I think that some of us are impacted by what we are seeing.
I am slowly running out of time to write about this, and I need more time to even try to compose my thoughts further on matters such as this. I would prefer instead to conduct a survey of everyone, in the most technical way possible, about how our time in Paraguay made everyone feel. I would also like to have surveyed the people in Monte Alto and Decak to see how they felt before and after our visit and service with the schools and community members. Instead I will leave all of you to consider the prospect of how this will psychologically affect the members of the group. Will we become more cynical about the world? Will our experiences helping our fellow man make us happier? We will see how this evolves in the week to come.
Teo C. Edmund Burke School