During this pandemic, everyone is properly worried about making sure that people’s physical needs are met. But our research in Peace Literacy shows that people have many non-physical needs that are as important, if not more important, than their physical needs, especially during times of crisis. We’ve put together this series to discuss what these non-physical needs are, how people can meet them (and help others meet them) in healthy ways, how people during a crisis can become more vulnerable to tangles of trauma such as mistrust, rage, alienation, and helplessness, and how we can deal with trauma constructively rather than destructively. Each entry in this series will focus on one of humanity’s non-physical needs, along with practical ideas to help us create stronger relationships and communities as we navigate through this struggle together.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists our physical need for safety as one of our most basic needs. However, in the military I learned that there are many non-physical needs that are more basic than safety, because they empower us to create sustainable forms of safety for ourselves and our communities, while also empowering us to fulfill our other physical needs.
When people’s physical need for safety is not met, what do effective leaders always do? They always give an inspiring speech. Effective leaders know that when people don’t feel safe, the most basic need you have to feed is their need for inspiration, because inspiration increases people’s motivation, courage, and resilience, which strengthen their ability to overcome adversity and attain safety for themselves and their communities. For example, when soldiers in the army or activists in the civil rights movement lacked physical safety to a degree that would make most people despair, a leader could use inspiration to increase their motivation, courage, and resilience, which would strengthen their ability to navigate fear and create safety not just for themselves, but also for others (which often requires them to risk their own safety).
Inspiring speeches are not the only way to inspire people. We can also inspire people through our actions when we lead by example. Effective peace leaders (such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.) and effective military leaders understand the importance of leading by example. When the philosophy, strategies, and tactics of nonviolence are concerned, peace leaders use the muscles of our humanity to lead by example and inspire others. When we feel inspired, we feel more alive, and we become better able to serve and protect the lives of others.
The muscles of our humanity are: hope, appreciation, conscience, reason, discipline, curiosity, imagination, language, and empathy. Peace leaders use their muscle of hope to lead by example and inspire others. In our Peace Literacy curriculum, we discuss the difference between realistic hope that is active and naive hope that is passive. We also discuss how idealism is the highest expression of realistic hope. When a leader’s words and actions are expressions of realistic hope and high ideals, this can inspire others, benefit their well-being in a variety of ways, help them exercise their own realistic hope and high ideals, and build stronger communities.
Peace leaders also use their muscle of appreciation to lead by example and inspire others. In our Peace Literacy curriculum, we discuss how stewardship is the highest expression of appreciation, since not taking the gifts of life for granted (and realizing that these gifts are fragile and can be easily lost if we do not behave responsibly) encourages us to care for and protect these gifts. Stewardship means having a sense of responsibility, and being a steward means being a protector. When a leader appreciates people, behaves responsibly, and works to protect rather than exploit, this can inspire others, benefit their well-being in a variety of ways, help them exercise their own appreciation and stewardship, and build stronger communities.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. inspired others by also having strong muscles of conscience, reason, discipline, curiosity that enhances learning, imagination (its highest expression is having a vision of a brighter future that we can work toward), language (its highest expression is skilled truth-telling), and empathy (its highest expression is solidarity). Leaders in any field can use all of these muscles to strengthen their leadership ability, especially during times of crisis.
The kind of leadership that is needed in times of crisis, at all levels especially the community level, is leadership that reduces tangles of trauma (such as meaninglessness, mistrust, rage, cynicism, alienation, helplessness, etc.) and helps people meet their non-physical needs in healthy ways. Leadership is most capable of reducing tangles of trauma and helping people meet their non-physical needs in healthy ways when it is based on realistic hope and high ideals, appreciation and stewardship, conscience, reason, discipline, curiosity that enhances learning, imagination and vision, language and skilled truth-telling, and empathy and solidarity. When a leader in a workplace lacks empathy, ideals, a sense of stewardship that encourages responsibility, conscience, reason, discipline, curiosity that enhances learning, the ability to tell the truth skillfully, and a vision for a brighter future, that leader will be far more likely to increase tangles of trauma and worsen the problems that occur in a crisis.
As your exercise for this week, think of a time when someone inspired you because their words or actions expressed one or more of the following: realistic hope and high ideals, appreciation and stewardship, conscience, reason, discipline, curiosity that enhances learning, imagination and vision, language and skilled truth-telling, or empathy and solidarity. This week you can also exercise your muscle of appreciation by expressing your appreciation to this person for inspiring you. If this person is no longer alive, express your appreciation by writing something about this person.
Our need for inspiration begins when we are young children, in the form of our need for role models. Our need for role models, which is an aspect of our need for inspiration, is so strong that if children do not have positive role models to look up to, they will look up to role models who exhibit behaviors that are harmful to communities. Children are like sponges who can learn to strengthen the muscles of their humanity not only through the Peace Literacy curriculum that we have developed, but also through the actions and examples of parents, teachers, and other adults who use these muscles in their daily lives. Much of our Peace Literacy work is focused on helping adults from all backgrounds strengthen the muscles of their humanity, since most of us were never taught by our education system how to do this.
There is a tremendous need for inspiration today. I constantly meet people who are looking for inspiration, because they feel despair when seeing problems grow in our society and around the world. We should certainly be alarmed that these problems are growing, but we should not be surprised. For so many years, our society has swept psychological and social pathologies, which many people have felt too uncomfortable to talk about, under a metaphorical rug. Our current digital technology has not only lifted up that rug, but also magnified the pathologies that many people have tried to repress and hide away. Crises such as COVID-19 also tend to magnify pre-existing problems in our society. To create practical solutions for these pathologies and problems, while reducing tangles of trauma during this crisis, we will have to understand and address the root causes that are hidden under our society’s metaphorical rug. We will also have to unlock the full power of our non-physical needs – purpose and meaning, nurturing relationships, explanations, expression, inspiration, and as we will discuss next, belonging – so that we can navigate struggle, uncertainty, and crisis in ways that lead to a more peaceful and just world.
To learn more about the importance of non-physical needs and how they can become tangled in trauma, visit our Peace Literacy website at peaceliteracy.org. On the main page you’ll see a video on this topic titled “A New Peace Paradigm: Understanding Our Human Needs,” (23 minutes) along with two essays available for free download that go into much greater depth. These are “A New Peace Paradigm: Our Human Needs and the Tangles of Trauma” and “The World of Electric Light: Understanding the Seductive Glow of Screens.”
The kind of leadership that is needed in times of crisis, at all levels especially the community level, is leadership that reduces tangles of trauma and helps people meet their non-physical needs in healthy ways.