Category: "Featured Blogs"

BE-Value Psychology by Barry Kibel, Ph.D.

March 2nd, 2014

Abraham Maslow devoted much of the last decade of his career to the study of the peak experience. He noted that athletes in the zone, mystics recounting moments of enlightenment, artists when under the influence of their muse, and everyday persons at their ethical and humanistic best appeared to share a common state of consciousness. In synthesizing their reports, he noted that the same B-values were invariably used to capture the spirit of that consciousness (wholeness, beauty, goodness, aliveness, etc.).
What might the world be like if these values dictated human behavior? Maslow posited that humankind would be operating at its optimum. He named that world Eupsychia. He made some brief forays into the world of business and management to promote the spread of these values. His untimely death in 1970 cut short that mission.
My explorations of BE-values picks up where Maslow left off. Note that I use this spelling rather than B-values or the longer version, Being-values, to gain an evocative connotation. My focus was widened to include any context in which a person or individuals are getting in the way of their own excellence (operating at less than peak) and choose to elevate and illuminate their behaviors.
Free for a brief or prolonged period from needs and fears, our higher nature rises to the surface. Under such “good conditions,” as Maslow named these, there is a personality shift from deficiency-mindedness to growth-centeredness. As Maslow noted, here “people can be expected to manifest such desirable traits as affection, altruism, friendliness, generosity, honesty, kindness, and trust.” They do not need more love or respect from others; rather they demand more of themselves. They give space for their inner being to emerge and light up themselves and their world. They function as self-actualizers.
Among the admirable qualities that Maslow associated with self-actualizers, they are more integrated and less split, more open for experience, more uniquely themselves, more spontaneous, more fully functioning, more creative, more humorous, more ego-transcending, less fixated on deficiencies, more perfectly actualizing their potentials, closer to the core of their being, and—in short—more fully human.
Maslow insisted self-actualizers do not constitute an exclusive club. Nearly anyone, given the “good conditions” where deficiency needs are satisfied, can opt for the BE-alternative to thrive and grow. However, he did acknowledge that some—far more than others--were blessed by birth, life circumstance, and predisposition and can more readily and more often overcome deficiencies and self-actualize. Self-actualizers, as a designation, refer to those men and women who, more frequently than the norm, have the propensity and good fortune to step forward and self-actualize.
As Maslow considered the lives of famous people throughout history who appeared to be self-actualizers, he noticed that many reported mystical-like experiences. Maslow was not a religious person nor had he previously shown much interest in metaphysics. However, in the mid-1950s, his curiosity and researcher integrity compelled him to delve into these experiences.
He began interviewing college students and others, and discovered that a sizeable portion could report at least one, often several, moments in their lives when they felt they had somehow transcended conventional time and space. They were elsewhere, on a higher plane of being. They were somehow wiser through being in touch with something unexplainable and beyond the ordinary. The triggers and contexts for these peak experiences varied, yet their descriptions of the sensations and mental shifts were not only similar to one another but echoed those self-reported by exceptionally creative individuals and sages throughout human history!
Maslow enumerated the common features of the peak experience as the feeling of wonder and awe, great happiness, loss of fear about the future, and an awakened sense of one’s own innate abilities. He equated them with “extreme inner health.” Maslow noted that these often brief, sometimes more lengthy, experiences delivered a profound and lasting impact. “Reality” could no longer be looked at or interpreted as it had been prior to the experience. The individuals felt infinitely better about their lives and about the world in general. They gained or increased their faith in the ineffable. They also became more acutely sensitized to how far humanity-at-large was from realizing our collective potential.
Whereas peak experiences are other-worldly and mysterious, Maslow recognized that there was a more mild form of personality transcendence. He called this the plateau experience. Self-actualizers could train themselves—through meditation, study, and other spiritual disciplines—to operate at this lofty level on a regular basis and evoke its lesser but still wondrous magic. Being less dramatic and out-of-one’s-control than the peak experience, the plateau experience has a conscious, self-observing, witnessing quality.
In the final years of his life and career, Maslow made some bold assertions. He argued for a normative—what ought to be—approach to the future of humankind. Social reformers should state clearly what they mean by ‘good persons’ and promote social action that encourages more like them. Maslow felt he had a good appreciation for the type of individuals society should cultivate and model itself after. These were the self-actualizers, particularly when they were drawing on lessons or insights from their peak and plateau experiences to shape a better life for themselves and the world. He saw them as advanced scouts, as ‘superior’ people, who knew better than the rest of us what is good, beautiful, and truthful. We should use them, he insisted, as our experts, just as “art collectors will hire art experts to help them with their buying.” He echoed the words of Aristotle: What the superior man thinks is good, that is what is really good. He went farther: What these superior people value is what I will come to value; and these values will be seen, in time, to be the ultimate values for the whole species.
In time, those at the plateau become addicted to these BE-values and want to go deeper into reality through them. The BE-values represent for them the end of the journey of the ego and the portal into what lies ahead. They might wish to stay floating within these abstract values, yet are compelled by both biological needs and worldly attachments to return to conventional reality and be useful to others.
The adoption of the BE-values can prove transformative. Most experiences, for example, can be enriched through the introduction of more aliveness and playfulness. Any election campaign can be improved through an insistence on honesty and truthfulness. Any chore can be elevated by aiming for effortlessness and excellence.
Maslow suggested that being deprived of any of the BE-values might lead to emotional illness, what he termed meta-pathology. Most of the world’s populations and society-at-large, unbeknownst to them, might well be suffering from as many as 14 different types of emotional illness or metapathologies. Hence, the challenge for social reformers and world leaders is not simply to help people who are deprived of the four basic needs. It is not nearly enough to stop there. People need guidance to navigate the world via B-values. Otherwise there will be unrecognized and often acute suffering at the meta-psychological level.
Maslow characterized Being-oriented experiences as evoking self-sufficiency, truth, playfulness, effortlessness, uniqueness, goodness, beauty, simplicity, richness, aliveness, justice, completion, perfection, and wholeness. Staying attuned to these values—individually and as a set—can become a self-help agenda and spiritual discipline. I also believe, as Maslow did, that enlivening all settings with ever more of these 14 values represents a universal formula for the good life for individuals, organizations, and communities. True the fourteen are abstract. Yet that contributes to their generative power. The BE-values encompass and transcend the best in life and in all of us. Our best-possible futures will only emerge as more of us—more fully and creatively—integrate these values within personal, familial, and professional relationships and in local and global policies, programs, and cultural norms.
To BE or not to be, that indeed is the question.
In his classic work, I and Thou, Martin Buber observed that the world, as we know it, must always be approached in either one of two ways. The first choice, which he termed the ↓I-it↓ experience corresponds to life lived with a deficiency-orientation. The sense of ↓me↓ dominates the experience. It is all about ↓me↓. ↓Me↓ seeks status and security and also never has quite enough. ↓Me↓ is ever fearful of not doing what↓me↓ is supposed to do.
Buber named the second and much preferred choice: ↑I-Thou↑ relation. As purely felt and lived, there is no sense of “↓me↓ here. Rather, there is a conscious shift toward full-ness, whole-ness, one-ness, and together-ness. There is an accompanying sense of awesomeness and mystery. This second of Buber’s options corresponds to encountering life through a heightened Being-orientation. It is pure Present-ness. Everything seems more alive and aglow with spirit. It is Heaven realized on earth. As Buber contended: “In the pure history of ↓I-it↓, one can live an orderly life. One can fill every moment with experiencing and using. But in all the seriousness of Truth: whoever lives only this orderly life is not fully human.”
We are challenged to marry these two orientations in all that we do, such that one orientation enriches the other in continuous give-and-take. As we bring ↑I-Thou↑ perspectives into play, we continually elevate the roles we play and the impacts we can have on the world around us. This is how we evolve as human beings and as a humankind body: not through material progress in the conventional sense, but rather through enlightening matter in both a material and Being sense. Each time any of us acts with BE-consciousness, light is added to matter and everyone and everything advances.
Abraham Maslow referred to these enlightened actions as ‘growth choices’. He contrasted these with ‘regression choices’, which keep one running in place (if not backwards) with a Deficiency-orientation. Here is a summary of his arguments in favor of growth choices. First, clinical and experimental evidence teaches us that making growth choices are better in terms of the person’s own biological values (less pain, discomfort, anxiety, tension, insomnia, nightmares, indigestion, etc.). Second, if a person could see all the likely consequences of growth choices versus all the likely consequences of regression choices, and given the option of one set of choices or the other, that person would always (if acting sanely) choose the consequences of growth and reject the consequences of regression. Third, growth choices have more evolutionary and survival value when conditions are ‘good’, i.e., when there are enough resources to go around. Regression choices have intrinsic value only when conditions are ‘bad’, i.e., when some must survive at the expense of others. However, these bad conditions are much rarer than believed. Fourth, regression and defense, living at the safety level, amounts to giving up many of the defining characteristics of a healthy human being—such as uniqueness, honesty, goodness, and richness. Fifth, if we were to pick those we most admire, whom we would most like to be like, we would see that they exhibit growth rather than regressive characteristics. In contrast, those we tend to think less well of are those who are regressive and selfish by nature.
The end goal is “extraordinary being” for ever increasing numbers. Success in approaching this goal depends on personal ascendency, followed by engagement with others to bring peak and plateau experiences into play in more and more venues. This is a shorthand way of describing what happens with any true spiritual journey, any deep organizational transformation, any profound social movement, or any global renaissance—past, current, or future. When happy, centered, and receptive, we instantly ascend and self-actualize. We experience wholeness, simplicity, and beauty. We feel playful and alive. Confronted with life challenges, we do not revert back to deficiency perspectives. Rather, we remain buoyant and add our brilliance to whatever tasks we face alone and with others.
Being-vibrations are stimulated whenever we are inspired to act through BE-values. These values are a set of guideposts for thoughtful action that are readily observable in people who are functioning at their ultimate best for the good of themselves and others. They are also evident in the active and productive lives of the world’s most creative, most spiritual, and most authentic individuals and groups—wherever on earth they reside or do their work.
Embracing the 14 BE-values, one aligns with the most psychologically healthy people, with the most saintly and mystical teachers of all religions, and with the most creative artists, scientists, and thinkers our world produces. Who, then, better to change the world than individuals and groups enlivened and motivated to act through these very same BE-values?
True, the dramas of Life’s pushes and pulls, ups and downs, will soon assert themselves and conspire to draw us back to realities of deficiency. Still we can elevate and add insight to whatever role we are playing within these deficiency-based dramas. We need not lose ourselves completely and worrisomely in neediness. Following conventional problem-solving scripts practically assures no real change will be sustained or even attempted. For deep and lasting transformations—at individual to global scales—mindsets and corresponding approaches are needed that draw richly and creatively on the 14 BE-values. This is far easier than one might now imagine.
Maslow’s great insight was that through peak experiences we tap into “the soul of the universe” and perceive its values rather than those of the distracted me. These BE-values (Beauty, Goodness, Uniqueness, Truth, etc.), according to Maslow, are what has elevated our best art, mathematics, experiments, theories, science, and even business practices from the ordinary toward the “ideal.” Giving full form and expression to these BE-values is the ultimate end game of all positive-focused psychotherapies, philosophies, and most religions. I believe it is the only methodology—when embraced by early adopters and ultimately by humanity at large—that will cause a break from conventional reality which seems to be sputtering with a loss of brilliance.
Any individual or group aiming to contribute toward happiness, prosperity, and decency in the world is well-advised first to learn more about and get comfortable with peak experiences and the accompanying BE-values; and then intentionally infuse these values within daily practices and social ventures. This is the surest and simplest way to transform the world at any scale.
One is simply a better person when peaking. One is mentally healthier. One is more open to creative inspiration. One is more spiritually alive. One is kinder and more compassionate. Could this be the next step in human evolution? What if hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions, then tens of millions chose—on an ongoing basis—to apply the BE-values to their lives in both small and more profound ways? Thought processes would change. Relationships would change. The work place would change. Politics would change. Education would change. Media reporting would change. Social structures would change. International relationships would change. Religions would change. And all for the better. They would be more beautiful, more just, more playful, more truthful, more whole, more complete, more alive, more unique, simpler yet richer—in short, more perfect.
Any situation—private or public, individual or team, at any scale—is fair game for this process. My testable hypothesis is that if we allow the spirit of any of the 14 BE-values to enter and flavor our consciousness, then perceive, think, and speak from this enriched perspective, we will be rewarded with insights and fresh approaches to the situation. In short, we will be operating at our creative peak.
I believe it is not only possible but necessary for ever-expanding numbers of individuals throughout the world to adopt BE-value behaviors as their guiding ethic. Whenever they sense that they are operating at less than their best—in effect, getting in the way of their own brilliance—they will know to attribute this to some poorly executed BE-value and take instant action to embrace more of that value.
In my book, BE-Value Psychology, I introduce a five-step process to guide individuals and teams in such endeavors.