Today & Maslow’s Yardstick

Chances are you’ve seen this graphic before. I believe it’s a pretty clear picture of why poverty hurts the entirety of human civilization, stunting potential contributions to our advancement as a species.

But that’s beside the point for this post. For me, today, it’s a personal yardstick. And this post is a journaling. Because (a) there’s no way I can manage an actual journal on paper, I’m apparently incapable of such privacy, and (b) my blog and Facebook history have proved to be effective tools for long-term self evaluation.

If you want to come along for the ride, that’s cool, I can use the companionship. But if not, that’s cool too, you should probably get out of the car here.

So, Maslow’s Hierarchy, starting from the bottom:

  • My physiological needs are fine, always have been, one of the perks of having been born a Middle Class white guy in 21st Century USA. Same with safety needs; same reasons.
  • Belongingness and love needs, I’m happy to say, are better than I feel I deserve. I use the word “feel” intentionally, because I’m intellectually aware that relationships are give-and-take, and I “think” I’m doing okay with the give part. But emotionally I feel like a drain on those relationships.
  • Esteem needs and self-actualization have been in a decline for a couple of decades, with a pretty steep nosedive over the past dozen years.

Those last few years of employment in educational publishing were brutal, taking me from heading up creation of an e-publishing department to bottom of the editing totem pole. From glowing praise from upper management (I recently found an old annual review letter in my records), to suspecting the only reason I still had a job was unwillingness to fire a long-term employee. All I can say is that I didn’t change; something else did. Call me unadaptable; I don’t think a history of success from factory to medic to LPN to teaching to game design back to teaching would agree.

Having left gaming as an occupation, by family necessity, a few years before taking that job, was its own hammer blow, with one attempt after another to revive that career thwarted. Maybe some other time I’ll explore the topic more in-depth, but for now, I can only say that whatever the creative field, it seems apparent that people follow properties more than they do the creators, something I’ve heard often from even some very big names. It’s worse with work-for-hire.

Even retired and self-publishing, as much as I’ve accomplished, in retrospect I see the nosedive increasingly apparent. I used to power through deadlines; now the very thought of a deadline is crippling. I believed it was the result of a focal seizure disorder; now I’m starting to think the disorder itself may be a manifestation of long-quashed anxiety.

Drawing this post to a close, I remind myself that its original intention was simply to record several weeks of ongoing, devastating “What does anything matter?” depression, and gratitude for a couple of hours when it lifted: Once with surprised smiles while viewing a video link Abraham Limpo Martinez shared, 30 minutes of calculating dice odds, the math involved, and how physically modeling them with dice glued together in shells goes from 2D to 3D to increasing dimensions of hypercubes; and once a Thursday night role-playing session with Steve Sullivan, Kifflie Scott, David Annandale, and my oldest friend, Jim Cotton. (I hope you lot don’t mind my mentioning you by name.) That session was mainly combat demonstrations, starting with Dracula’s three brides, then 20 of his gypsy minions, and then Dracula himself! The last with a perfectly Hammer film style conclusion, Sully apportating a stake for Dracula’s heart, on the same turn the Count summoned a cauldron of bats to drive the heroes away, allowing both sides to escape to fight another day. I better understood my own game design from that session, and learned a great recording trick from Sully!

That last paragraph is the m0st important for this record. The others are just prelude. If you’ve read through it all, here’s the point where I say “Thanks.” You’re one of the folks who help give my life meaning.

2 thoughts on “Today & Maslow’s Yardstick

  • September 26, 2023 at 11:30 am

    Thank you for the comment. It’s always encouraging to know that a post is read. And I utterly agree with your point that doing things for other people is uplifting.

    It isn’t a cure-all. It doesn’t, for example, fix a chemical imbalance in the amygdala. Can’t fix PTSD. Couldn’t fix my spouse’s emotional damage from years of sexual abuse as a child. It can’t fix a genetic predisposition for clinical depression or anxiety. And in some cases, burying ourselves in devotion to other humans’ problems is an avoidance of facing our own.

    We can do both, helping other people while also addressing our own mental health issues.

    But clinical depression and anxiety aren’t something that can be solved by a disciplined “fall nine times and get up ten.” I’ve never stopped getting back up, through layoffs, through military training, through nursing school and then college as an adult with four children to raise. Though to be perfectly candid, three times during my working years what got me through was only the thought that my family deserved better than the heartbreak of discovering a lifeless corpse in the morning.

    Some psychological issues can’t be solved by sheer backbone, no more than we can will away a heart attack or cancer.

    Now that I’m retired, I have time to face and address two emotional issues that I know consciously aren’t right, but that remain nonetheless. One is an unrealistic sense of shame, from my very earliest childhood memory at three years old. The other is related to it, an irrational rush of panic at the merest hint that I’ve disappointed. (Pretty much every email with the word “Kickstarter” in the header triggers that, though the majority of those emails are praise or encouragement.)

    These posts are one way of facing those two lifelong threads. Sometimes they elicit messages of encouragement that I’m not alone. And sometimes they let other people know that they aren’t, which makes such posts an act of service that does, as you’ve pointed out, lift my spirits.

  • September 22, 2023 at 7:43 pm

    I don’t always agree with some of the things you write. Yet I continue to receive these posts that shed some deep personal insight into a person who I only knew previously from his game design work. I just want to say first that it’s very brave to open up to complete strangers on some topics. Some people do this just to pontificate or paint themselves as somehow more knowledgable, better educated or more important than anyone who might read their ramblings, but I don’t feel that’s your intention. As you stated, you’re simply journaling in a more public sense.

    These generalizations about the human condition are fine in the context of a sociology class while examining the theories of some lauded and revered egghead who probably had no more clear solutions in his personal life than any of us do. But the truth is far more simpler and might be heard in the teachings of some Eastern philosophy – We must achieve balance in all things.

    I would perhaps, add a tiny tetrahedron to the tippy-top of that pyramid. The caption inside would read:
    “It’s not always about YOU.”

    Self-actualization by realizing one’s goals is certainly admirable. Those other levels of the pyramid certainly help us to achieve that. But the simple fact is that realizing our personal goals are not, nor should they ever be, the be-all, end-all of our existence.

    I think the person who coined the term, “Money can’t buy happiness” does deserve a punch in the face, along with the person who said, “Kids are resilient. They bounce back.” It’s certainly true that wealth and physical possessions shouldn’t be the most important aspects of our lives. Although it’s certainly hard to see the forest for the trees and think about bettering any aspect of your life when you’re struggling to make ends meet. But to take a page from the teachings of Jesus (no matter what your beliefs about him are,) we must learn as Judas was told that there will always be poor and rich people. This condition will exist until we all get Star Trek replication units and shiny onesie pajamas. Even then, if all of our basic needs are met, we will still have to find things that make us feel happy, fulfilled and like we’re being Really Useful Engines, to borrow a Thomas the Tank Engine analogy. Without the balance of good relationships and the genuine love and understanding of our friends and family, even the hardest won victories can feel hollow. The poorest of families, when gathered around a table or otherwise enjoying each others company will ALWAYS be building something far stronger than the family where two parents work their asses off purposely to attain all of the creature comforts and status symbols without making quality time to spend with their children.

    We see today a crisis with many young people grappling with identity. This is something we all experience, but today we are sorely lacking in some of the things that traditionally helped us define ourselves. In decades past, some young people were forced to define a role for themselves by what was going on around them. Fast forward back to today and we have a society that prizes a “Look at ME!!” mentality over all other things. We have young people who question the very basics of who they are and are rushed into poor decisions by parents who see some magic pill as a quick fix, the panacea for poor parenting. Social media is raising and educating our children because parents are not. I fear for the future, because these children will grow up thinking their places on a fictional pyramid will ever be defined by the opinions of peers or even total strangers. This kind of thing is already damaging our society.

    I think what people need to understand is that the tiny piece I would add to that pyramid can be just as strong as that bottom layer. We can define ourselves on the basis of not only who we choose to be but also by what we do, not just for ourselves but for others. By this I don’t simply mean contributing to some nebulous charity by rounding up your purchase to the nearest dollar at the card swipe, or retweeting a post or waving a tiny flag. Each of us has to ask ourselves, “What have I done to make the world a better place? How have I enriched the lives of others?” This doesn’t mean you have to join the Peace Corps tomorrow. This can frequently be represented by your interactions with loved ones.

    I say all the time regarding my son, who is special needs, “When he’s happy, I’m happy.” I used to spend a lot of money on toys or things I believed he enjoyed, but I realized the thing he prized the most was spending time with him, showing him that he’s loved. He loves nature and the outdoors too, so I’ve made it our goal on vacations to experience this. Seeing a smile on his face is the highest value of currency I could ever hope to earn.

    As far as doing things for others, including strangers, I often wonder how many of the people who are quick to make comments on social media that we need to be better people or make the world a better place have actively attempted these things. No, protests and buying something that claims to align with your beliefs don’t count. Who has volunteered to help the poor, the disabled or the elderly? Who’s gotten involved with youth groups to help its members strive for the top of a color-coded pyramid instead of teaching them to believe it’s denied to them at birth? It’s very easy to rail at the very real (or perceived) problems of the human condition. It seems to be much harder to get people off their asses and actually do something that justifies their existence on this Earth.

    I’ve helped complete strangers many times. I did this not to pat myself on the back afterwards. I did this because I knew it was the right thing to do. If I vanished from this Earth tomorrow, at least I served some purpose by being where I needed to be and doing what needed to be done.

    If you’re a good person, if you act for example, in the best interest of a family you love, whether it’s one you were born into or one you helped create, self-doubt will only be temporary and will never be insurmountable. If there’s a brass ring or some other prize at the top of any pyramid, being that type of person will help you get there.

    So to you Lester, I say go do something for someone you love for no other reason than you love them. Don’t worry about pyramids unless you’re writing an adventure that involves them. Leave that to the alien conspiracy theorists.

    From reading some of your posts, I see that you’ve done a lot to try and help others. “So what does any of it matter?” Well, YOU matter, because you’ve tried to matter. You’ve also had fun doing what you love and made some cool RPG stuff for people to enjoy, and that’s pretty cool too. And gaming with friends, as you so clearly illustrated, helps bring us together. It’s helped boost my spirits at some of the lowest times in my life, so its value can never be underestimated.

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