Can human beings change the way that they are? This question is the pursuit of every psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, motivational speaker, coach, and minister of faith. Before attempting to answer this question, one must understand the basic physical and psychological needs of humans as well as events that shape a person's behavior.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs explains what motivates humans to pursue various actions. The highest need, but last to be achieved, is self-actualization. Man is continually trying to make a difference in this world and to become something better than he was yesterday or at this very moment. Whether or not he is able to do this may depend on whether or not other more basic needs are met.
Maslow wrote "Theory of Human Motivation" in 1943 which describes in pyramid form the basic needs of every individual. At the bottom of the pyramid are the physiological needs of food, water, health, and those things which keep us alive. Next is safety which includes home and shelter. The next need is love and belonging. After that is self-esteem. Finally, at the top of the pyramid is self-actualization. According to Maslow's theory, all of the needs listed in the first four levels of this hierarchy must be met before a man can pursue self-actualization.
The family of man has become more civilized and peaceful during times of prosperity. However, when there has been poverty and strife, be it from disease, difficult environment, or manmade problems, people have tended to become less civilized and to rely more on animal instincts of survival.
Faith and hope are important factors which inspire people to rise above difficult circumstances rather than to succumb to behaviors of desperation and fear. Without belief in an ideal, a higher power, and a reckoning of one's time on Earth, most people would live an egocentric life without regard to the effect of their behavior on others.
As important as faith is the nurturing one receives as a child. Our behaviors are modeled after our parents and caregivers. They are our first providers of our physiological needs, safety, love, and esteem. If those needs are not met, a child will have problems overcoming insecurities related to those issues later in life. If the behaviors he models are inappropriate or dysfunctional, he will have problems coping later in life.
Human beings individually and collectively can achieve their highest potential as civilized and peaceful people if individually and collectively their basic needs are met. Society, however, has a conflict of philosophies. We struggle between believing we are each other's keepers and requiring each man to struggle for his own success.
As competition for basic needs such as food and water become greater, there becomes a greater struggle for survival and less importance placed on charity for others. However, there is hope. When Mankind has faced hardships in the past, he has learned to overcome. Scientific discoveries, inventions, and other new knowledge have in the past helped Man to become more prosperous, safer, and more understanding of one another.
While the individual may feel helpless to cause a significant change during his lifetime, there is one thing every person can do: nurture a child. Feed a child. Be a good example. Make sure that child is safe, loved, confident, and educated. In this way, we can change the way human beings are, one child at a time.