The Self-Transcendence Search

by Christopher James Joseph Saccoccia

Every day, as we walk down the street, glance away from the computer screen or people-watch at the mall, we witness people in need. Most of us see some sort of struggle in the person’s eyes, words or body language. Now the question becomes, will we help them? Many people will attest to the fact that they witness others in need and know what help would be required. Yet the population tends to remain passive at such times. Why do people not take action when others are in need? What is required for us to take action? While going through a mid-life crisis, becoming educated on self-transcendence and its benefits can help bring a new passion for one’s life.

In 1928, Abraham Maslow, a psychologist created a hierarchy of needs. This pyramid-shaped chart was used to display the physiological needs of all human beings. The pyramid is functions such that human beings need to fulfill the bottom levels before being able to move on to upper level. Our most basic needs are characterized as physiological and include breathing, eating, sleep and homeostasis. Almost all humans make it to the next step, safety. Safety includes security of employment, morality, heath and security. As the economy and job markets tend to decline, we find that more and more people do not have this psychological sense of security; thus, these people cannot proceed to the love/belonging stage. Our need for friendship, family and sexual intimacy make up the need for belonging. The next step, and where many people stop, is esteem. According to Maslow, the need for self-esteem, confidence and respect for and by others is required to achieve esteem. Self-actualization includes removing prejudice and accepting certain facts about the world. The question of attaining self-actualization is somewhat controversial, some argue that only about 2% of people ever achieve a level of Self-actualization (McCarty, 2009). Others make a point of emphasizing self-transcendence is much more easy to attain (Saccoccia, 2009). Unlike Figure 1, Maslow’s published hierarchy of needs concluded with self-actualization.

Maslow's final version, although never popularly accepted

Maslow's final version, although never popularly accepted

However, in Maslow’s unpublished pyramid, he included the final stage that is included in Figure 1: self-transcendence. Though leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi have attained such a level, the list does not include many more (Saccoccia, 2009). Self-transcendence includes caring for others and attaining intrinsic happiness, which is the internal feeling of satisfaction from seeing positive results of one’s ongoing behavior (Geller, October 2008). Self-transcendence has also come to be known as altruism, which is “self-sacrifice for the benefit of others” (Altruists International, 2009).  Why do people not take action when others are in need? In Dr. E. Geller’s The Courage Factor, he tells the story of a leader in the business industry that is challenged to cope with the various challenges of family, to effectively lead various colleagues, and to appease the expectations of the business manager (Geller & Veazie, 2009). The main character is middle-aged and going through a crisis. He is not exactly sure who he has become and what his purpose in life is. Often, people know what challenges are the most difficult to face (i.e. helping others). When challenged to contemplate why this type of altruism is among our most arduous challenges, many are unable to explain. We all see instances in life where a little effort to actively care would benefit not only others but also ourselves. Dr. Geller argues that this can be highlighted by the difference between moral and physical courage. While many people all have an archetype of physical courage (Batman, Superman, etc.), moral courage is more difficult to recognize and enact. Geller states, “Courage is necessary but not sufficient for actively caring”. “Without (moral) courage most well-intentioned initiatives become another ‘flavor of the month”’ (Geller, September 2008). The reason people do not act is because they lack the moral courage to do so. This goes back to having fulfilled Maslow’s level of esteem and self-actualization, where one has full confidence in oneself to enact such morals. However, the lack of moral courage in oneself prevents us from acting to help others.

What is required for us to take action? We have established that the inability to act when others are in need is due to a lack of moral courage to do what our values say ought to be done. Dr. Geller outlines these requirements as his “Five Actively-Caring Person States” (Geller, October 2008). The states are self-esteem, self-efficacy, personal control, optimism and belongingness. If we can attain these five person states, then attaining self-transcendence can be accomplished. Self-esteem expresses, ”I am valuable” (Geller, October 2008). This person state highlights that people with a higher self-esteem “report fewer negative emotions, and less depression…and they handle life’s stressors with more confidence and competence” (Geller, October 2008). The most important stress that Geller emphasizes it that the higher our self-esteem, the more readily we are to assist for the wellbeing of others.

The second state is self-efficacy, or the “I can do it” state (Geller, October 2008). This emphasizes the importance of people being able to witness their achievements, and the benefits of them. This recognition that a person sees, but does not necessarily receive, is referred to as intrinsic reinforcement (Geller, October 2008). However, Geller also emphasized that this recognition can be felt internally as well as being given externally (awards, praises, applause, etc.) because any type of reinforcement that promotes an individual’s sense of self-efficacy (Saccoccia, 2009).

Following self-efficacy comes personal control, or the feeling that “I’m in control” (Geller, October 2008). A person is more likely to want to help others when they feel like they are in control. It often links to the “locus of control,” which is the perception of internal versus external forces that dictate a person’s life. External beliefs place reliability on luck, fate or chance (Geller, October 2008). Oppositely, internal beliefs blame oneself for any setbacks or gains. Geller argues that one’s perception of “choice” is very much entwined with personal control. By increasing this choice perception, a person feels that they have more control, hence are in a better position to gain the courage to help others.

Optimism is defined in this context to be “I expect the best” (Geller, October 2008). Optimism stresses the important role of a self-fulfilling prophecy, that people who expect good things for themselves will achieve the goals that they have set. Most importantly, this state emphasizes the importance of a good mood. Those in a good mood are more likely to resolve of any kind of crisis they may be in to help others (Geller, October 2008).

The final person state is belongingness. Belongingness is the sense that “we are family” (Geller, October 2008). Awareness that we all are people on the earth and are all part of a family pushes us to care for others. Geller reemphasizes the importance of moral courage here because “the lower the relatedness between and observer and the [person in need], the more courage it takes to intervene” (Geller, 2009). Geller also stresses that belongingness is the most important state in one’s search for self-transcendence. Outcomes of Self-Transcendence People who are able to attain the five person states are able to attain the moral courage required to help others. When asked what they want in life, people reply with a multitude of answers. Looking at one in particular, “to be happy” may be one that many middle aged men who have felt a feeling of losing themselves over the past 10 years. While coping with the results of an unsuccessful search for love, happiness and prosperity, self-transcendence is always a feasible and beneficial option. Altruism defines the satisfaction we feel after helping others. In getting one’s life back on track or dealing with general uncertainty, we cannot only benefit the world by helping others, but also continue to build a happier and healthier future for ourselves.

In Conclusion, Dr. Geller has studied why people decide to look away while witnessing others in need. He believes that the key to this problem is motivation (Saccoccia, 2009). The absence of motivation is what disallows us to have moral courage to help others. However, in coping with a rumble strip in the long road of life, we can get this moral courage by adapting to the five person states. If people are able to attain these states, we can then achieve self-transcendence. After achieving this, we are better able to resolve problems, and regain the happiness that life gives us from helping others.

References Altruists International. (2009). What is altruism? Retrieved March 29, 2009. From Geller, E. (2008, September). The courage and compassion of injury prevention: cultivating an actively-caring culture. Retrieved February 19, 2009. Geller, E. (2008, October). The actively-caring disposition: how can we ready a culture of interdependence? Retrieved February 19, 2009. Geller, E. (2009). Cultivating an actively-caring culture: dispelling myths about people and moving forward. Retrieved March 24, 2009. Geller, E., & Veazie, B. (2009). The courage factor. Virginia Beach: Coastal. McCarty, S. (2009). Life coaching. Retrieved March 23, 2009, from Saccoccia, C. (2009, March 24). Personal interview with Dr. E. Scott Geller, Alumni distinguished professor. Blacksburg, VA.


~ by shanemccarty on April 14, 2009.

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