There are not many people who can turn down the seduction of a mirror. On entering a room, especially if no one else is there, most of us would naturally turn to the mirror for a thorough appraisal of our face, moustache, hair, shirt, or chain. A lady might perhaps go as far as inspecting the angle of elevation of her breasts and ensure that they are properly positioned.
Whatever our proclivities I know we all love to use mirrors. It is even rumoured that slave merchants in centuries past bartered their choicest slaves for mirrors.
I am tempted to assume that everyone who gets to read this piece would not be among those rare species of human beings who do not possess even a trace of narcissism in them because I intend to lead us to the front of a mirror created decades ago by the erudite Jewish American psychologist, Abraham Maslow. For best results, I would suggest that we approach this mirror with as much humility as would make us accept that mirrors are too indifferent to be biased against us.
Maslow opened the chapters of what he called humanistic psychology with his theory on the hierarchy of needs. He proposed that every human being falls into one of the five stages in his stepwise hierarchy. According to him, those who fall into the lowest step pass through life chasing only their physiological needs; that is food, water, sex, some forms of recreation perhaps etc. On the second stage are those occupied with the safety needs of security of employment, resources, morality, family etc. The third step is all about love and belonging, the fourth about self-esteem, while the apex of the hierarchy is that most elusive stage of self-actualization.
The wise amongst us have learnt to number their days, but even wiser are those who have come to realize that the only meaning that can be derived from this miserably short existence is from spending it on a course that would transcend life itself. Nelson Mandela had a thriving law firm in South Africa and could have folded his arms, live in luxury, while the dehumanization of his race continued, but he sacrificed all that for a grander course. That is a good example of someone who attained the highest point in Maslow’s hierarchy. If he had chosen the easier way he would have spent his long life trapped in lower sections of Maslow’s pyramid. The world has a long list of individuals, known and unknown, who got to that highest stage of existence. William Shakespeare’s name is mentioned virtually every day for more than three centuries after his demise, a feat which I am sure the king or queen of England in his days would be envious of if the dead do hear.
I guess these gigantic figures have spent their fair share in front of our hypothetical mirror. Let us proceed to set other giants, of smaller courses though, before this mirror. Let us, for a start, place a Nigerian big man; say a state governor, or an honourable legislooter before our mirror. The reflection we get is sad on the one hand and amusing on the other. One would expect that someone who rises to become the governor of a state should have no business living for physiological or safety needs. His gaze should be set on loftier goals but what we find is that our leaders expend so much energy on amassing wealth that they have little left to invest in those things that would leave their names on the sand of time. Their high positions provide them with strong ladders through which they could rise to the top of Maslow’s hierarch but what we find is that rather than climb up, they climb down the ladder. They appear to be eternally trapped in the lower stages of existence. They just seem incapable of finding any meaning out of life outside the struggle for physiological and safety needs. These buffoons are in desperate need of salvation!
Apparently the rot in the head has sent seedlings down to every other part of the body because even those who occupy the middle, much more learned class of our society do not seem to fare better in front of this mirror. We just finished making some noise over a successful writer who had become something akin to the voice of the people, but who at the slightest opportunity, abandoned grander ideals to satisfy what, to me, is scarcely more than a physiological need. He abandoned the people to become the megaphone of the people’s oppressors. What about the former INEC chairman? The list of supposedly erudite Nigerians who got stuck in the baser columns of Maslow’s pyramid is rather mind-boggling.
Finally, to the more practical part of it all – you and I. Let you and I, on this new day place ourselves before this mirror that so thoroughly examines our character, and sincerely decide where exactly we are stuck and what we can do to climb towards the truly meaningful stage of human existence – self-actualization. I must confess though that the irresponsibility of our leaders coupled with our own appalling timidity has put us in grave danger of being perpetually trapped in the basest level of existence. However, after this sincere self-appraisal, I beseech us all to create our individual action plans of attaining self-actualization. We have every reason to because we won’t live forever!