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Interdependent Actualization

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

In 1938, Abraham Maslow travelled to Alberta, Canada for several weeks to spend time with some friends who, as anthropologists, were studying the members of the Blackfoot Nation. It was from observing the interactions between these members of the First Nations of Canada, that Maslow seemed to coalesce his thoughts on becoming fully actualized. Five years later, Maslow wrote his article A Theory of Motivation, and undoubtedly some of his observations of the differences between the Blackfoot peoples and the white inhabitants of nearby towns led him to the ideas which became known as Self-Actualization. According to Maslow’s biographer, Edward Hoffman, It was the members of the Blackfoot Nation that best exemplified the traits of Self-Actualization.

There are writings which state that Maslow “generously borrowed” concepts from the Blackfoot, including the model of the hierarchy itself, which some Blackfoot believed was inspired by the tipi, or teepee. However, it was Charles McDermid who wrote an article in Business Horizons in 1960, 17 years after Maslow wrote his article, in which the pyramid we know today was first used. For more information on this, see Scott Barry Kaufman’s blog in Scientific American, available at

Since Maslow did not develop the pyramid, he could not have “generously borrowed” the idea from the Blackfoot. But that in no way diminishes the contributions of the Blackfoot or other First Nations, Native American and other indigenous peoples to the concepts Maslow went on to develop in his ideas of transcendence, or in the ideas that are encompassed by the term Interdependent Actualization in my earlier posting and article. In the western approach to Self-Actualization, the span of time to measure the actualization they have achieved is their birth and death. The perspective of First Nations is broader than that, encompassing my ancestors, myself, and my descendants.

When I talk about Interdependent Actualization, at one level it does include the people with whom I am interacting now. But at another level it involves my children, and the legacy I leave for them and their children, the ways I have honoured them and supported them. It also extends to my ancestors, my parents and grandparents and the people whose lives affect me 475 years after they died. I am speaking now of a group of Christians who renounced violence, even at the expense of their own lives. Their actions affect me today.

I do not have to worry about whether or not my work is finished as I get older. I do not have to worry whether or not I am too young to really make a contribution to my field, or my community, or my people. I am part of an interdependent whole, both at a local level, and a global level. There is no better example of this than the internet, because people will be reading this blog in Norway and Australia and Canada and the United States, and perhaps some other places of which I am not aware. Once my needs for autonomy and affiliation, for intimacy, for achievement and social relationships, for communication, attachment and subsistence are being met (not have been, for these processes are always in play), in a sense Interdependent Actualization will take care of itself. I don’t have to work at this, we work at this together.

Bob Bowen


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